Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Brian Pollak

Mentor:  Patty Lein


Title: Climate Change and Its Effects on Coral Reefs

Description: Scientific Poster

Surfing being my passion, I have always been fascinated with the ocean and all its offerings. One of the oceans most prized possessions is in great danger. Coral reefs have been dying worldwide due to climate change. For my Senior Project I educated the public about this issue by creating a scientific poster.


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PowerPoint Presentation


For my Senior Project I made a scientific poster to educate the public about the dangers climate change holds for coral reefs.  I chose my topic because I wanted to give back to the ocean that given so much joy to me as a surfer.  As well, I wanted to become more familiar with coral reef ecosystems in terms of understanding both the biology and ecology of these systems.  As a hands-on component I was fortunate enough to snorkel on the Tres Palmas Reserve in Rincon, Puerto Rico.  The ability to put my research into action made my project come “alive” for me.  As well, it offered hope for the plight of reefs as the reserve was able to protect the reefs from the dangers of other anthropogenic forces such as overfishing; mangrove destruction (causes silt runoff); poaching using toxins and general pollution.  Since these stressors are mitigated the hope is that the impact of climate change will not be as great. This field study was featured on my poster as well. 

A few key topics on the poster include symbiosis within the coral reef community, ocean temperature change, acidification and a section on the history of climate change. Symbiosis is when different species mutually benefit form each other. An important symbiotic relationship is between the coral reefs and the fish. Corals provide safe shelters for fish to live, spawn and raise their young, while fish help clean the reef so that the Zooxanthellae can continue to produce nutrients for the coral using the sun’s energy.           

Climate change has been happening for a long time, the problem that we are faced with is that recently, in comparison to the earth’s age, there has been an excess use of greenhouse gases, which have trapped heat inside our atmosphere. Climate change is greatly affecting these symbiotic relationships. Climate change can result in changing ocean temperatures, raising it by as much as 4 degrees Celsius, in addition to making the water column more acidic.  These changes greatly impact the health of corals both in terms of nutrient availability and growth of their protective skeletons.  Since both species depend on each other for survival, when one is eliminated the other species cannot survive. Water temperature increase is one of the main causes of death of corals. When water temperatures are higher than they should be the Zooxanthellae burn off, shutting down photosynthesis, thus starving the coral polyps. Once the coral dies, the fish no longer have homes and are now vulnerable and easily attacked from predators.

I learned quite a bit from this project, not only about the topic but also how to create a scientific poster.  My views on oceanic life have changed, as I do not only look to the ocean for the waves but also the life that lies underneath the surface. 

Works Consulted

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Coral reef. (2008). Coral Reef Info. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from

Coral reefs.  (2009, June 11).  Ocean World.  Retrieved October 9, 2009, from

European Science Foundation (2008, May 24).  Ocean acidification:  Another undesired effect of fossil fuel-burning. ScienceDaily.  Retrieved December 20, 2009, from

Goldman, S. (2001).  Reef Cayman Islands. [photograph].Personal collection.

Henson, R. (2008).  The rough guide to climate change: The symptoms, the science and the solutions.  New York:  Rough Guides Ltd.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Mumby, P.J. & et al (2007, December 14). Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification [Abstract].  Science, 318.  Retrieved December 20, 2009, from

Ihde, T.F. (2009).  Why are coral reefs important?  Newton:  Ask a scientist.  Retrieved October 12, 2009, from

Kazlev, A. (2003).  Hydrozoa:  Hydroids and hydromedusae.  Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

MacGillivray, G. (Director).  (2003).  Coral reef adventure [DVD].  [With Liam Neeson, Crosby, Stills & Nash].  United States:  MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation.

Mitchell, A. (2009).  Sea Sick:  The global ocean in crisis.  Toronto:  McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

Panse, S. (2004, August 20).  Medicines from the coral reef ecosystem.  Retrieved November 1, 2009, from

Rincon Tres Palmas Reserve.  (2008).  Surfrider Foundation.  Retrieved November 15, 2009, from

Roy, J. (2008, April 23). Global warming. [Blog].  Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Sheppard, C. (2002).  Coral reefs:  Ecology, threats and conservation.  Stillwater:  Voyageur Press.

Community Member (Details)

Peter Topping