“Losing Our Coral Reefs”
Excerpts from the article published in The Earth Institute, Columbia University, State of the Planet‘s blog, by Renee Cho, June 13, 2011
Before reading this you might like to watch the video included with my blog, “Great Barrier Reef” published March 6, 2012.
I urge you to read Renee Cho’s full article by clicking the link at the end of this blog. Thank you.
Coral reefs, the “rainforests of the sea,” are some of the most biodiversity and productive ecosystems on earth. They occupy only .2% of the ocean, yet are home to a quarter of all marine species: crustaceans, reptiles, seaweeds, bacteria, fungi, and over 4000 species of fish make their home in coral reefs. With an annual global economic value of $375 billion, coral reefs provide food and resources for over 500 million people in 94 countries and territories. But tragically, coral reefs are in crisis.
Coral reefs are endangered by natural phenomena such as hurricanes, El Nino, predators and diseases; local threats including overfishing, destructive fishing techniques, coastal development, pollution, and careless tourism; and the global effects of climate change… 90% of coral reefs will be in danger by 2030, and all of them by 2050.
Coral reefs are colonies of individual animals called polyps, which are related to sea anemones. The polyps, which have tentacles to feed on plankton at night, play host to zooxanthellae, symbiotic algae that live within their tissues and give the coral its color. The coral provides CO2 and waste products that the algae need for photosynthesis. In turn, the algae nourish the coral with oxygen and the organic products of photosynthesis. The coral uses these compounds to synthesize calcium carbonate (limestone) with which it constructs its skeleton—the coral reef…
Of local threats to coral reefs, overfishing and damaging fishing techniques such as deep water trawling and the use of explosives and cyanide, are the most destructive… The global effects of climate change are also having critical impacts on coral reefs, and “the evidence is overwhelming that the ability of corals and the reefs they build to keep pace with the current rate of climate change has been exceeded” according to a recent study… When El Nino occurred in 1997-1998, widespread and severe coral reef bleaching occurred in the Indo-Pacific region and the Caribbean, killing 16% of the world’s coral reefs in 12 months… bleaching leaves corals vulnerable to disease, stunts their growth, and affects their reproduction, while severe bleaching kills them…
Today, coral reefs are experiencing warmer ocean temperatures and more acidity than they have at any time in the last 400,000 years. Acidification reduces the water’s carrying capacity for calcium carbonate that corals need to build their skeletons…It’s estimated that by 2050, only 15% of coral reefs will have enough calcium carbonate for adequate growth… Coral reefs provide us with food, construction materials (limestone) and new medicines—more than half of new cancer drug research is focused on marine organisms. They offer shoreline protection and maintain water quality. And they are a draw for tourists, sometimes providing up to 80% of a country’s total income. Losing the coral reefs would have profound social and economic impacts on many countries, especially small island nations like Haiti, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Philippines that depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.
What can be done to save these precious and beautiful ecosystems? …
The Coral Restoration Foundation protects and restores coral reefs through creating coral nurseries and transplanting corals into degraded reef areas. Concerned individuals can adopt a coral through the Coral Restoration Foundation or a coral reef through the Nature Conservancy, which uses the funds to conduct research, promote marine conservation and support the creation of MPAs. MPAs, which are being created worldwide, protect biodiversity and help communities manage resources sustainably.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest and richest coral reef in the world because it has been protected since the early 1970s. The creation of an MPA off St. Lucia in the Caribbean has resulted in a tripling of the fish population…. by Renee Cho