Climate activists turn coral reefs into international crimes scene to protest fossil fuel companies

Activists with different groups 350. org proclaimed “crime scenes” at dead and bleached coral colonies .
Image: Bioquest studios

The ocean became a crime scene the coming week after environmental activists ensnared dead and bleached coral in yellow police tape.

Divers affiliated with the climate advocacy organisation 350. org cordoned off colonies of sickly coral near Australias Great Barrier Reef, Somoa and the Bay of Bengals Andaman Islands.

Huge swaths of coral in those areas are struggling to survive as ocean temperatures rise, in part because of global warming.

The culprit for the crime, activists claimed, is U.S. oil and gas producer Exxon Mobil.

The Texas-based energy giant is facing criticism for funding climate denying think tanks in recent decades a move critics say made public confusion about the realities of climate change and thwarted global efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: bioquest studios

Image: bioquest studios

Donning dive suits and snorkel masks, underwater activists this week held signs emblazoned with #ExxonKnew, referring to investigative reporting that uncovered Exxon executives knew about the existential threat of climate change half a century ago, but buried that knowledge to protect the companys bottom line.

Were not going to let them get away with slaying, Bill McKibben, the founder of 350. org and a prominent climate activist, said Wednesday in an op-ed in the Guardian about the coral crime scene.

We need to remember that theres nothing natural about this horror. It was caused, as so many crimes are, by greed, McKibben wrote.

In an interview with Mashable the coming week, McKibben said the ongoing coral bleaching event in the Pacific Ocean is one of the things thats been more powerful and affecting for me so far this year.

Sobering is too sober a word, he said by phone.

Lauren Kerr, a spokesperson for Exxon, said accusations that the oil giant was to blame for killing coral reef, and claims that the company deliberately misled the public on climate change, were ridiculous.

To suggest that Exxon Mobil had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the worlds experts and while climate science was in an early stage of developing, is not credible, Kerr told Mashable in an email.

Suzanne McCarron, Exxons vice president of public and government affairs, described the #ExxonKnew campaign as an inaccurate portrait of the companys virtually 40 -year history of climate research.

Its ironic that there is a movement under way to demonize our firm as somehow denying the existence of climate change when we have acknowledged those risks for years, McCarron wrote Wednesday in an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle .

Coral reefs at risk

The demoes highlight the growing threat to the worlds reefs, which are suffering the longest-ever global coral bleaching event on record.

Coral bleaching happens when coral expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissue and give them color and nutrients. Increased water temperatures, pollution and other stressors can cause this action, which turns coral white or pale and builds them more vulnerable to illnes or death.

Bleached corals can retrieve if ocean water cool or pollution subsides, but they can die if the stressors last too long. When that happens, its not just the coral that suffer: Reefs provide food and shelter for up much as one-fourth of all ocean species.

More than half the reefs worldwide have already been hit twice by the ongoing coral bleaching event, according to satellite observations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration( NOAA ).

At Australias Great Barrier Reef, up to 50 percentage of previously healthy segments in the north have bleached and died, scientists in Australia said in May. Even higher mortality was find around small islands in the central Pacific.

NOAA scientists warned in June that the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands all stand a significant opportunity of enduring injury high levels of coral bleaching through the end of 2016.

Coral bleaching near the Maldives, May 10, 2015.

Image: UIG via Getty Images

After more than two years of coral bleaching, the ongoing global coral bleaching event is still in full swing, Mark Eakin, who coordinates NOAAs Coral Reef Watch program, said in a statement released by 350. org.

The most severe place for coral bleaching is near the equator in the central Pacific, in the core of the El Nio zone, where warmer-than-average ocean waters tend to develop and persist.

An intense El Nio event most recently subsided, and likely helped set off the bleaching event in many areas.

Prior to this event, the only two previous observed global coral bleaching episodes were tied to an El Nio.

But Eakin said this ongoing bleaching event the worst yet is due mainly to human-caused global warming, which has raised ocean temperatures enough so that even a weak El Nio can set off serious bleaching.

Image: Bioquest studios

As countries burn petroleum, coal and natural gas for energy, and as industrial farmers and loggers remove forests, heat-trapping emissions of greenhouse gases have soared in recent decades. The ocean have absorbed the vast majority of that heat about 93 percentage putting unprecedented stress on coral and other species that cannot withstand warmer waters.

The problem of widespread coral bleaching is a new one, brought about by global warming in the 1980 s and continuing to grow stronger and return more frequently, Eakin said in the statement.

Unless we can get atmospheric[ carbon dioxide] levels back down to those that are healthy for coral reefs, we are going to lose one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Globe, he said.

Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman contributed reporting to this story .

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