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Coral Reefs are gatherings of organisms consisting of colonies of polyps that primarily reside in the tropical region. They are beautiful, filled with colorful fish, intricate formations and a diverse range of sea creatures. But what makes coral reefs so important?
Reefs support diverse ecosystems that provide shelter to a fourth of all identified marine species and act as natural barriers, which protect the coastline from the ocean’s pounding waves. Corals and sponges are also filter feeders, which contributes to enhanced quality and clarity of nearshore waters.
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Save Earth’s Coral Reefs
Coral reef ecosystems help to benefit economies by cultivating fisheries, creating and sustaining tourism, and providing a diversity of culture to communities. Coral reefs also contain several marine creatures which produce compounds that have been used to treat cardiovascular diseases and leukemia.
Coral reefs play vital roles in both the health of the ocean and the surrounding communities. But humans’ influence on Earth’s climate is pushing them to the brink of extinction.
Corals bleach when stressors like unusually hot water short-circuit the symbiotic algae inside corals’ tissues, causing them to become toxic. Corals expel these colorful algae, revealing the corals’ white skeletons. Without the algae to help feed the corals, they can starve to death and often do. Fields of once-vibrant coral lay barren and white; fish flee, the water is robbed of the sound of healthy reef life. The mass coral bleaching being observed today represents a whole new level of coral reef decline. The of this increased global rate of bleaching may be attributed to the effects of climate change and human negligence. So what can we do to reverse the harm we have caused to our seas?
In the 1980s, coral reefs could expect about 25 to 30 years of recovery time between stressful episodes. Now, abnormally warm waters come once every six years on average. That is not enough time for corals to recuperate. Even the fastest-growing corals need at least 10 to 15 years to fully recover from severe bleaching. Entire reefs take decades to heal. In recent years 100 reefs have been the subject of observation, more than half saw more than 30 percent of their corals bleach. Studies have suggested climate change may cause the steep rises in temperature associated with this ecological disaster. Among the victims of these deadly spikes is the Great Barrier Reef: in 2016 bleaching killed about two-thirds of the corals along its northern stretch.
The continued loss of these reefs will have wide-reaching adverse effects. More than a quarter of all known marine species spend at least some of their lifecycle in coral reefs, and more than 500 million people depend on coral reefs for food or fishing income. The worst consequence could be the potential catastrophe that would stem from unchecked erosion on inhabited shores.
Organizations around the world are coming together to find solutions to prevent this disaster. Something needs to be done to restore our coral reefs to their former glory.
One solution at the forefront of the coral conservation movement is to replant reefs with coral grown in offshore nurseries. Baby corals are attached to underwater scaffolding for several years until they are ready to be glued to a reef in need of restoration. This approach is promising and needs to be drastically scaled up so that entire seascapes can be restored. Because coral restoration programs are primarily based on volunteer labor, there are many opportunities for education and community engagement.
Raising awareness, whether it be through volunteer outreach or campaigns such as World Ocean’s Day is also a method being used to promote conservation. By encouraging people to participate in beach cleanup events, join fundraising commitments, or attend informational forums, organizations are contributing to preserving our coral reefs. With increased public awareness citizens can petition their governments to invest in research to reduce our carbon emissions which will, in turn, reduce the amount of coral being lost globally.
Although these methods are bringing about progress through hands-on work and increased awareness, there is still much to be done.
Local and Global Change
The government of the world needs to work together to end the climate change that is decimating our coral reefs. Current actions aren’t enough. The United States recently pulled out of the Paris Agreement as well as ended the Clean Power Plan. Without global cooperation, we will not be able to protect our coral reefs. There is still time to prevent existential damage to the world’s reefs, but only if sweeping action is taken now.
Existing species need to be conserved, for scientists do not know everything there is to know about all species. The health, management, and conservation of biodiversity is a fundamental issue facing humankind. Because reefs contain much of the world’s marine biodiversity, it is important that we develop strategies to protect them.
In addition to these global actions, people around the globe need to take steps in their own lives to reduce their carbon footprints and protect coral ecosystems. Support business that support our reefs, choose a reef-friendly sunscreen, talk to your local representatives, educate yourself and spread the message of the coral conservation movement. Your personal actions can influence a more significant change in society.
By meshing global and local efforts to protect our coral reefs we can ensure they remain for generations to come.
A Precious Resource We Must Protect
Coral reefs are an incredibly valuable resource as well as an integral part of our global economy. We need to do everything in our power as an international community to protect these biomes by working to prevent the climate change that causes their rapid loss. Through this prevention and restoration, we can live in a healthy and beautiful world with thriving marine ecosystems. .