Coral bleaching is about to cause one of the biggest breakups of all time.

Once upon a time, there was coral.

Coral lives in the ocean and forms massive, magnificent reefs when it binds together. The reefs, with their hard bony structure and various nooks and crannies, provide protection and shelter for all manner of marine wildlife.


Photo by Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images.

Then algae came bouncing along, and something beautiful happened.

Algae, one of the oldest lifeforms on the planet, had been drifting through the ocean waters for millions of years, attaching itself to anything it could in order to reproduce.

Algae! Photo via Simon Andrews/Wikimedia Commons.

Algae found a home with coral, and the two quickly fell in love.

Coral provides carbon nutrients and protection for algae, and algae provides food for coral through its photosynthesis. It's a perfect symbiotic partnership, and algae and coral found out they were a match made in heaven. On Earth. In the ocean.

Everyone was happy. Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images.

For hundreds of millions of years, coral and algae's relationship has been rock solid. But times are unfortunately changing.

You know how sudden, massive changes in your life can put a stress on your relationship? Like the loss of a job or a death in the family? Well, the same thing can happen to coral and algae.

When the couple's environment experiences sudden changes, coral reefs can get stressed out, which affects its ability to be the good, supportive partner algae fell in love with. The algae is then forced to abandon the coral and seek out a better life elsewhere in the sea.

This is a process known as coral bleaching.

The coral looks "bleached" because algae is what gives it its bright green color. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

One of the largest coral reefs in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, has been abandoned by almost all of its algae.

It's one of the most significant coral bleaching events ever recorded and possibly the biggest oceanic celebrity breakup since South America left Africa in the great Pangea split.

Currently, 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has been left by its algae — a scarily high number, one which has never been seen before.

The Great Barrier Reef is visited by about 1.6 million people every year. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.

Who's to blame for this deep-sea Shakespearian romantic tragedy?

One of the most significant coral stressors is changing ocean surface temperatures. The "photosynthetic efficiency" of coral and algae's millennias-old lovefest drops if temperatures become too warm or too cold.

Lately, human-made climate change has pushed ocean surface temperatures way above normal. Australian ocean temperatures are also greatly affected by El Niño, which has recently become more extreme as a result of the greenhouse warming of the planet.

Greenpeace activists painting a message on the side of a coal ship. Photo by Greenpeace via Getty Images.

That temperature shift has forced algae to pack its bags and leave the Great Barrier Reef cold, lonely, and in serious danger.

To be fair, parts of the Great Barrier Reef will regain their algae population when (or if) ocean temperatures drop back down. But scientists have already seen large portions of the reef permanently die due to the sudden loss of algae.

Some scientists estimate that the Great Barrier Reef will face total extinction in decades. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images.

Global climate change will also continue to produce temperature extremes unless we do something about it, meaning that coral stressors will become worse and worse every year, and these bleaching events will become even more significant.

There are 8 billion reasons to fight climate change. Now there's one more.

One of Earth's oldest and best love stories is coming to an end off the coast of Australia, but fighting back against climate change can save it.

If you don't want to do it for humanity, do it for Earth's greatest couple. Do it for a partnership that deserves to continue.

Do it for love.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less