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21 April 2016

Coral reefs, avocados and most bears: what we could lose to climate change

Enjoy them while you can. 

By Barbara Speed

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is, it turns out, bleaching itself. Scientists flew along all 1,400 miles of the world’s largest coral reef system, and have estimated that around 93 per cent of it is now a pale white colour. Coral systems “bleach”, or expel nutrients and algae, when the water temperature is too high. And, as a result of an extra hot El Niño current this year – itself probably a result of global warming – the water is too warm. 

So the brutal reality is: go see it now, if you ever want to see it, because the bleaching will likely kill off the reef and make life very hard for all the wildlife that lives in its ecosystem. This turtle, for example:

Image: Getty.

Here are a few other things you should get the most of now, because climate change is in the process of killing them off. 

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Avocados

Image: Getty.

A long-running drought in California, plus the fact that avocados require huge amounts of water to grow, led to rising prices last year. Chipotle, a burrito restaurant, even half-threatened to remove guacamole from its menu as a result.

A new set of imports from Mexico may have pushed prices down again now, but climate change will continue to hit high-maintenance fruits like avocados where it hurts. No longer the breakfast of hipsters – more like the breakfast of billionaires. 

Miami

Image: A volaaa at Wikimedia Commons.

South Florida as a whole is low-lying, and the coastal city Miami is under threat from rising sea levels. Meanwhile, most of Florida’s senior politicians are climate change deniers.

Yet even if emissions stopped right now, water levels will still rise enough to engulf the city. As the Guardian put it, “there is nothing that can stop the waters washing over Miami completely”. 

Most bears

Image: Getty.

Polar bears are dying out, as their time on the ice, when they can hunt most effectively, is getting shorter every year. Pandas are dying out. Grizzly bears are facing threatened food resources. Koala bears can’t get enough nutrients from post-climate change eucalyptus leaves. Bye, bears. 

Pikas

If you don’t already know what pikas are, it might not be worth your while to find out – thanks to climate change, they’ve disappeared from around a third of their natural habitat in North America already. This is partly because they die if their body temperature rises by more than 3°C. They’re small, very cute rodents which look a little like hamsters, and they tend to live in cold, mountainous areas, mostly in the US and Asia. 

Say hello, wave goodbye:

Image: Alastair Rae via Wikimedia Commons. 

Shellfish 

Image:  Guttorm Flatabø

Rising temperatures make the sea more acidic, which is bad news for the shells of molluscs. According to researchers in Australia and Chile, acidic waters can also confuse shellfish and can result in them moving towards their predators, rather than away from them. 

You can still help slow the effects of climate change on the environment and your favourite snack foods. The Coral Reef Alliance works with charities around the world to conserve coral reefs, while Friends of the Earth campaigns on and works against climate change in general.