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Coral's Last Gasp: Climate Change Pickles Coral

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Aug 26, 2014 11:29:00 AM

Hot and Hotter. Climate change has sent global temperatures up in most places. 40 percent of coral is dead. Yet coral is now considered nature’s 21st century medicine chest.

July 2014 Global Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles Map

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), July report released yesterday,“The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 tied and was the fourth highest for July since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 38th consecutive July and 353rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for July was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985."

Monday night on the CBS News, Jeff Glor reported about the battle to map the ocean and to save the world’s coral reefs.

Scientist Sylvia Earle is working on the ocean mapping project. Earle also writes books, some for children, educating them about the importance of coral reefs.

The mapping project is called the Catlin Seaview survey.

There are efforts to rebuild coral reefs that involve building a scaffolding to anchor new coral published in Nature magazine in 2010. Some call these coral nurseries.

NOAA reports that the “genetic diversity found in coral ecosystems is unparalleled and this diversity has proven beneficial for humans through the identification of potentially beneficial chemical compounds and through the development of medicines, both derived from organisms found in coral ecosystems.” So, even though coral is hidden under the sea, their loss not only has environmental impacts but also would have an adverse impact on health care.

NOAA says that nearly “half the medicines in use today have their origins in natural products, mostly derived from terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms.” It refers to the search for new medicines from nature as “bioprospecting.”

Coral is the source of new  medicines “to induce and ease labor; treat cancer, arthritis, asthma, ulcers, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases; as well as sources of nutritional supplements, enzymes, and cosmetics.”

Some call coral the medicine cabinets of the 21st century, but the value of coral as medicine was recognized “by Eastern cultures as early as the 14th century.

Researchers in Australia (the globe’s skin cancer capital) have developed a sun cream from a coral chemical that contains a natural "factor 50" sun block.

Earle's childrens book “takes children on an undersea journey to explore an amazing ‘underwater city.’ She explains the formation of coral reefs and provides information about the conditions needed for survival. In addition, the author introduces other animals that live in and near the reef and stresses the importance of protecting corals from pollution.”

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