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The following is the first-place essay submission in Foote's Maurice R. Hilleman essay contest, asking Middle School students to answer the prompt: "What scientific issue would you take on if given the chance and why?" To read more about this inaugural contest, click here.


By Gus Larsen ’26

A natural wonder is often hard to come across but it gets even more difficult by the day. All underwater beauties in life are slowly fading away, turning into gray and white wastelands, soon to be overcome by the human population. Coral is one of the many underwater sanctuaries that are dying due to our inhumane behaviors, causing the heating of oceans, and more powerful storms that wipe away the life on our planet, draining it to almost nothing. Coral death is only a sliver of what our earth is facing and I would like to shed light on the topic, raising awareness to those who disbelieve the truth of our future. 

Not only is coral a natural resource that hundreds of species rely on for homes, food, and shelter, but it is a hugely advertised destination for tropical fish and sea creatures that rely on it with their lives. Take the spiny lobster for example. Without the vibrant coral to inhabit, they have no use for their colorful shells. The backs of lobsters are what help them hunt and survive and with no background to blend into, their population will massively decline from standing out. Predators have a new easy target to hunt and can spot them from hundreds of feet away in the current, swimming for a lost cause of survival. Coral isn’t just a pretty landscape to look at, it is an essential part of millions of creatures' lives that depend on it. Without coral, groupers will starve, sea horses will be hunted to extinction, and turtles will have no place to live, leading to their immediate downfall. If humans can’t make a difference soon, life in the oceans can never be the same again, existing as a barren, colorless seafloor with no chance at sustaining life.

Coral, nicknamed the rainforests of the sea used to be majestic ecosystems, teeming with life. They are dissolving before our very eyes, now only covering around 1% of the known ocean floor. However, the healthy reefs still remaining, house nearly a quarter of the known marine species. Studies show that now, we have only 10-15% of the coral we used to have 100 years ago. As the earth is currently warming at 1.1℃, that number will decrease faster than what you would like to imagine. The burning of fossil fuels is slowly warming the planet, causing extreme weather conditions for which the coral can not handle, becoming brittle, slowly dying, and eventually being swept away in the ocean currents or settling into the sand, never to be observed again. The process in which the coral dies and becomes white is known as bleaching. This occurs when the coral excretes zooxanthellae, a chemical responsible for producing color and when it is repelled, drains it to eventually fade to a bright white.

There are endless ways to save this natural spectacle, some that also help our lives. An easy solution to help save nearly a quarter of the coral we have lost is to spread the word! Not only will it make people aware of such an important cause, but it will remind you to keep in mind how our everyday actions and routines may be causing harmful effects on our essential resources and environments. Helping to inform people of the issue at hand is almost just as important as conserving our use of water that we use on a daily basis. The runoff water from either brushing your teeth, or washing dishes doesn’t play a huge role in disrupting our marine ecosystems. What is harmful is leaving the sprinkler on outside your house for hours on end or taking unnecessarily long showers. These small changes in your life that you may choose to act on will affect the ocean quality to extreme levels. The runoff water from these tasks eventually find their way into the ocean, making it unsanitary for the ocean life that lives by the shore, causing their population to eventually downfall if we keep up these habits. I have only skimmed the surface of what is possible to accomplish in saving our seas, and by doing little things like picking up trash and telling your friends, you save the planet.

I am confident that if we humans try our best to conserve the little paradises we have left on this planet, they will thrive, expand, and eventually become healthy once again. It is important to remember that it takes twice as long to fix damage as it takes to create it. When I grow up I hope to witness the sea bloom more vibrantly than ever before, and sustain itself with no further support from humans. All life on this planet is worth saving, from dragonflies, to beluga whales, every animal on this planet has a purpose, even coral.

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