Going, Going, Gone: The Damaging Effects of Rising Sea Temperatures

Are you interested in scuba diving and marine life? What steps should be taken to curb the harmful impact of global warming on the environment.



In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.1  Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. Recent studies of the Caribbean coral reefs have shown that 80% of its coral reef cover has been killed due to bleaching.1 The Caribbean reefs span from Belize to Mexico, and include Anguilla, Bermuda, St. Lucia and Turks & Caicos. The economic implications of coral bleaching are substantial.2 These country’s economies depend heavily on fishing and aquatic tourism, which have been impacted as a result of coral bleaching. The damage in the Caribbean foreshadowed what is now happening in the Great Barrier Reef.


Great Issues for the Great Barrier Reef


(The above image is dead coral off Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef, it was bleached in March and then dead and covered in seaweed in May)


Stretching 2300 kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet.3 The reefs are known for its intricate and colorful architecture. It includes 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins3. Recently coral bleaching has begun to kill off vast portions of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding wildlife. Rising global water temperatures are continuing to contribute to the bleaching of coral systems that has occurred in the Caribbean.  A lot is at stake with the continuation of damage to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the largest living structure in the world, and by far the largest coral reef system may cease to exist in the not so distant future.


Diving Cairns: Scuba diving and Snorkeling Specialists


About 2 million people visit it each year and together they contribute almost $6 billion to the Australian economy.5 Diving Cairns is an online diving company based in North Queensland, Australia. It specializes in providing comprehensive information covering all aspects of scuba diving, skin diving and snorkeling.6 Diving Cairns is run by specialized divers and are well versed in navigating the Great Barrier Reef area. The livelihood of their business is dependent of the preservation of the Great Barrier Reefs since the reefs are large driver of inbound tourism into the country. The company has also has a banner that calls attention to the health of the Great Barrier Reefs. Marine biologists give updates on coral bleaching and the extent to which is affecting the region. Additionally, Diving Cairns has an update from “Quicksliver Group’s Environmental & Compliance Manager, Dougie Baird, who also discussed the slowing degradation of the reefs.6


No Clear Next Steps and Way Forward

By drawing attention to the issue in website, Diving Cairns is trying to bring awareness to the issue of global warming with potential customers. Individuals play a large role in contributing to global warming and can help reduce carbon emissions by changing our lifestyle. Activities like recycling and using public transportation are individuals actions that when peformed on a large scale can help reduce the impact of global warming. Climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation all play a role in damaging marine wild life. Individuals can also influence the actions of large corruptions by boycotting products or influcing their polictical representatives to impose regulations. Although coral bleaching has devastating impacts on companies like Diving Cairns, they have minimal control in curbing its impact. What steps do you think should be taken to change this trend or is it too late?


  1. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/01/caribbean-coral-reef-loss


  1. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/facts-about-the-great-barrier-reef


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/07/the-great-barrier-reef-a-catastrophe-laid-bare


  1. greatbarrierreef.org/greatbarrierreef-facts.php


  1. https://www.divingcairns.com.au/about


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Student comments on Going, Going, Gone: The Damaging Effects of Rising Sea Temperatures

  1. This is a good synopsis of some of the negative impacts of climate change on marine life as well as the tourism and fishing industries that are dependent on a robust marine ecosystem. I think that it is unlikely to be too late to arrest some of the negative impacts, but certainly more action is needed then simply boycotting unsustainable corporations. I think that working through local and national government agencies as well as international agencies is essential in combating what is truly a global concern. A good example of positive initiatives within this space is the state of Florida, which has implemented fairly substantial reef-management plans in recent years. Measures include beefed up regulatory frameworks, marine zoning plans that improve reef resilience, and outreach efforts that support climate-change specific lobbying efforts with real-time data outlining the impacts of warming temperatures on habitats (see http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/coral/pub/Coral_Climate_Change_Action_Plan.pdf). I think it will be necessary in the coming years to establish broad coalitions committed to similar measures across international reef systems in order to see meaningful change in coral degradation.

  2. This is super interesting article ! I was quite amazed to know the speed at which coral reefs are how one incident in history can have such a negative impact on nature which is built over centuries. This is clearly an example which proves that climate change is not a thing of future, but it is something which is happening now and happening fast. I am happy that companies like Diving Cairns are driving awareness amongst its consumers, big steps and regulation need to be brought in place to preserve such intricate and magnificent nature’s living structures.

  3. Great Article! I love diving!

    A interesting appraoch reef conservationists have looked into are artificial reefs. We may not be able to save all the reef that are subject to unfavorably warm temperatures, but conservationists have dedicated time and resources to finding locations where threatened species can be relocated or new colonies started so they can live in favorable conditions and temperatures. Artificial reefs have been utilized to give the colonies a new feature to live and grow on, and the arificial reefs range from scuttled ships and subways cars to engineered cave/cove designs to increase coral growth and entice reef fish. We may not be able to stop the waters in some areas from warming, but we can still work to protect the ocean’s biodiversity.


  4. Very nice article! It is a very good summary of how we are damaging our planet. Apparently the damage to the reefs is permanent and it is too late to save them. But the discussion does not stop there. It is very important to create awareness and try to suggest possible solutions. Having a sustainable growth and allowing our planet to survive is not an one-off action. It is a constant effort. A matter of behavior and attitude. I would be really interested to see what should be our next steps regarding this issue.

  5. Diving Cairns would be accredited by PADI an international professional organization for diving which ensures that dive shops and instructors are operating as per safety and conservation standards. This community is very active and has been in existence for 50 years. A logical next step could have been to leverage PADI to elevate awareness of the impact of climate change on Australia. In addition to instructors, PADI also certified thousands of divers around the world. This is another community that could be activated to lobby for change. Furthermore, the travel industry more broadly could be a group that Diving Cairns could work with to push for necessary legislation changes in Australia. By exploring these options the post could have strengthened its assessment of possible solutions or actions.

  6. Great post. It is difficult for them to have a huge impact because they are a small player. I wonder whether they could partner with some marine biologists or bring this to the tourism division in the government. They need a bigger voice than themselves to be able to do anything meaningful or to get people to pay attention.

  7. I concur – the slow destruction of Australia’s great barrier reef and similar reefs around the world is truly devastating. You mostly mention two primary sources of reef damage – rising temperatures and tourism – and hint at others such as pollution and overfishing. In my view, water pollution is an enormous contributor to damaging ocean life in general and should not be understated. For example, a new study in ‘Science Magazine’ estimates that China’s coastal population alone contributes 1.3 million to 3.5 million metric tons of plastic to the world’s oceans every year, largely due to mismanaged waste. (http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-tons-of-plastic-trash-in-oceans-20150213-story.html). Fortunately, this is something that we, as consumers and eventual business leaders, can directly influence. Governments should also require companies to uphold the highest moral and environmental standards when it comes to waste disposal and apply heavy financial penalties to disincentivise cheating.

  8. Great post. As a diver I can really resonate with the issues. I just read this great article on the subject – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/07/climate-change-is-intergenerational-theft-thats-why-my-son-is-part-of-this-story – Naomi Klein writes: “In a way, that’s the good news: we still have both the time and power to force our politicians to change course.” – if you agree how do you think the population can force politicians to make change?

  9. Very relevant and important topic. Coral bleaching is real and dangerous. I am glad you talked about this issue in the post. Last summer, during my honeymoon at Maldives, I was sadden to watch and realize that almost all of Maldives’ corals were dead due to bleaching. In Mexico, my home country, we have the second largest barrier reef in the world (the Great Mayan Reef) and it is experiencing the same problems you describe, with more than 31% of the reef sites in critical condition. For these reasons I have very strong personal feelings towards this issue and I truly believe that the only path to solve it is through Government intervention. Relying on individual and/or corporate awareness is important but not enough and it is just too slow. Strong regulations and respective penalties need to be impose, along with heavy oversight. The Paris Climate Agreement is a step in the right direction but there is too much work to do. Of all climate change related topics coral bleaching is probably the most urgent one to solve. Time is running.

  10. It is certainly disheartening to see the gravity of the situation and the destructive impact of the climate change on our nature. After reading the post, I can now better understand why companies like Diving Cairns would be seriously impacted by such negative change.
    With that said, I do think there are certain steps the company can take to raise awareness about the current challenge and influence people’s behavior. Throughout the semester, we have studied the power of building communities and how much influence such group of people can have on peers and the society as a whole. For example, I believe Diving Cairns can utilize social media to raise awareness about the endangered reefs and what people can do to mitigate the negative impact. The company should also team up with other players who are threatened in a similar manner and communicate such message to its customers consistently. While the effect of such initiatives might take time to trickle down to actual improvement in business performance, it would certainly help to make such efforts to help a larger population realize the intensity of the problem and appreciate the beauty and immense value of the experience the company offers. By emphasizing the looming danger and rarity of the diving experience, the company could increase revenue and benefit from increased traffic.

  11. Completely agree that this is a key area where there should be a concerted investment in sustainability. I actually had the pleasure of getting my PADI scuba certification at the Great Barrier Reef the summer before coming to HBS. During my training, one good mechanism I noticed the diving school using was to to complement the scuba certification training with some sessions on the marine life at the Great Barrier Reef (including the one that I went through – Deep Sea Divers Den). The session is run by a marine biologist and explains why conversing the reef is important, and then recommends actionable steps for how each new diver can help preserve the reef.

    I thought this was an interesting approach and could be very beneficial in spurring greater action at scale. I hope these diving schools can create more grassroots efforts to ensure more people are knowledgeable of how they can help preserve the reef. It was definitely an incredible experience and it was eye-opening to see the world from deep below the surface. I’ve always been someone who really enjoys to travel and has also lived abroad in multiple countries, but I had really only thought of what was above the surface in a given area – the culture, the architecture, the food, the nightlife, etc. Once I saw what the Australia world was like under water, it gave me a more holistic view of the country overall. I’ve heard that reefs can be quite exceptional in other countries as well, so I’m excited to explore some additional areas under water.

    As such, I hope that the message of global warming is propagated effectively – especially in regions with strong reef networks – as it is critical for the survival of the marine life and the overall ecosystem.

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