Climate change has been blamed for killing our coral reefs. But it isn’t the only culprit. We’re learning now that there’s more turning the world’s beautiful coral reefs into dead, white husks. Read on to learn more about what’s happening to our reefs and what we can do to help prevent it.

What’s killing our coral reefs?

According to the research paper published in the journal, Marine Biology, chemicals dumped by humans are what is also contributing to the decline in our coral. Data has been collected over 30 years from the Lone Key Sanctuary Preservation Area located in the Florida Keys. In this timeframe, coral coverage has gone from 33% in 1984 to 6% in 2008. Additionally, as temperatures have gone up globally during the study, average temperatures locally have remained the same. This led researchers to be able to study other problems bleaching and sickening the reef.

It’s not just climate change

Researchers found that bleaching occurs due to a loss of algae. The algae are called zooxanthellae and it’s what gives the coral it’s color. When temperatures rise over 86.9 degrees, the bleaching effect occurs when the algae giving the coral its color is lost. During the study, a spike happened 15 times from 1984-2014. Climate change isn’t all to blame, however.

Researchers also found that when fertilizers ran off into the ocean during a rainstorm, coral death was far more common. These fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus. During a rainstorm, runoff would cause an increase in nutrients in the water. Algae would bloom and cause a large number of coral deaths. Nitrogen was noted to be the most deadly. When the nitrogen balance gets out of control in the ocean, coral starts to break down. It can’t get enough phosphorous and we see coral starvation. The organisms aren’t able to survive in these conditions. The high light and high temperatures will eventually bleach and kill the coral.

The economic impact

In Florida, coral isn’t just an integral part of a healthy marine ecosystem. Coral reefs also contribute around $8.5 billion each year to the Florida economy. According to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, that’s 70,400 jobs. It’s predicted that coral reefs provide around $375 billion worth of goods and services worldwide. The fish that live and grow on the coral reef is also a significant food source for people around the world. In the United States alone, around half of the federally managed fisheries depend on our coral reefs. The estimated value of these fisheries is predicted to be over $100 million.

The future

A lot of the negative effects could be stopped if we can stop the runoff into the ocean. By improving water-treatment plants, we will be able to make significant improvements. Much of the nitrogen runoff doesn’t run straight from the land and into the ocean during a rainstorm. Instead, the rainwater passes through a water treatment plant that fails to remove the chemicals. In the Caribbean, researches note that their improved sewage-treatment plants are effective in pulling nitrogen out of the water. In these areas, coral is fairing a lot better than they are off the coast of Florida.

Only blaming the death of our coral reefs on climate change wouldn’t be describing the whole picture. This wouldn’t address the bigger issue of our water quality. Although communities near the coral reefs can’t do much to stop climate change, there is a lot they can do to improve the water quality and reduce the nitrogen runoff. Worldwide, this is a global concern that we can fight with the help of our local and global communities.