Coral Reefs – Under Seige

Coral Reef

By WONNE Afronelly

Coral Reefs are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems and the Great Barrier Reef is Earth's largest living structure stretching over 1,429 miles. These large underwater structures are composed of living marine invertebrates called coral. Unfortunately, 25% of coral reefs have been irrevocably damaged. Harsh fishing practices, coral mining, and climate change are some of the reasons behind their destruction. 

These reefs are complex three-dimensional structures built up over thousands of years due to the deposition of calcium carbonate skeletons of the reef-building coral species. The Coral Reefs are beautiful underwater structures that make the ocean more colorful, vibrant, and often referred to as the "rainforest of the sea."  And good reason! They host about 25% of all ocean species. Naturally colorful because from algae called zooxanthellae, which live inside the coral, providing them with food.

As all ocean lovers know, the presence of Coral Reefs makes the world seem so spectacular; it enhances a natural bond creating a feeling of peaceful coexistence in a complex and diverse world.

Top photo by John Turnbull: "Soft corals, including this Dendronephthya species, are one of the most colorful animals on subtropical reefs. Like hard corals, they are a colony of polyps, but instead of a hard skeleton they are supported on a structure of fleshy tissue. Soft corals are the focus of research into possible future medical compounds as they are chemically protected; notice they are hardly ever encrusted by other organisms such as algae."

Formation

Coral Reefs form along edges of islands when free-swimming coral larvae attach to hard surfaces like submerged roc. They become the characteristic structures as fringing, barrier, or atolls as they grow and expand.

Formation of Coral Reefs from a group of larvae takes up to 10,000 years, and depending on their size, barrier reefs and atolls take about 100,000 to 30,000,000 years to become as they are now.

Distribution of Coral Reefs

Soft Coral Reef

The three types of coral reefs known are — fringing, barrier, and atoll. They share similarities in their biogeographic profiles having the same bottom topography and depth, wave, and current strength.

While some Coral Reefs survive short periods tolerating temperatures high as 100°F, most are in marine environments with temperatures between 73° and 84°F, and most Reefs also require very saline water within a range of 32 to 42 parts per thousand to thrive.

Above photo by John Turnbull: "Delicate hydroid. Filigree under the sea; the "branches" of this delicate colonial animal provide the structure on which the tiny white zooids live."

Importance of Eco System

Water Filtration - particulate matter in water preventing particles from dirtying the ocean with harmful materials are consumed by many Coral Reefs that are filter feeders, which helps keep shore waters nearly pollutant-free and clean. 

Food and Medicine for humans – Coral reefs are a substantial source of food for up to a billion people worldwide who depend on fish that live on coral reefs. They house about 4000 species of fish, including nutritional supplements and medicines found in many organism species that live on the Reefs.

Social Cultural and Economic impact - Many travelers love the sight of Coral Reefs, which also attracts scuba divers and snorkelers every year. Nature-based tourism enhances tourism-based livelihoods and increases business opportunities for service centers as restaurants and hotels.

Protection - Coral reefs help protect lives and properties against storms and waves and coastal erosion. They act as natural buffers; they achieve this with their complex three-dimensional shapes and underwater fixtures. 

Causes of Destruction

The destruction of Coral Reefs is directly related to climate change

Warming ocean that triggers thermal stress leading
Ocean bleaching and infectious diseases
Sea Level Rise also causes infectious diseases and smothering of Corals, ocean acidification, and more
Water pollution irritates corals and causes disease. When sickened, they expel the colored algae known as zooxanthellae
Overfishing.  In addition to the pollution from boats, the use of anchors and nets destroys many habitats. Destructive fishing practices like deep water trawling uses dynamite or cyanide.  
Coral mining. Collection of live Corals for the aquarium market
Pollution. Agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, oil and gasoline, and human waste all make it difficult for coral to thrive. Therefore, they damage the complex relationships among the plants, coral, and other animals that are part of the reef ecosystem

Oil spill can kill them or impede their reproduction, growth, behavior, and development.

How We Can Protect

No matter where you live, there are simple ways to preserve and protect

  • Help Educate Yourself And Other People About Coral Reefs 
  • Choose Sustainable Sea Food
  • Buy from Sustainable Brands like Fierce Hazel that DO NOT add more waste to the planet and our oceans
  • Be A Marine Debris Crusader, Don't Send Chemicals Into Waterways
  • Practice Safe Boating
  • Be a Responsible Tourist, Choose Hotels That Embrace Environmentalism
  • Reducing Environmental Damage
  • Fund, Support Reef Protection And Pressure Politicians To Support Reefs Protection

Coral reefs are a combination of plant and animal life that provide a buffer, protecting our coasts from waves, storms, and floods. They support an abundance of plant and animal life (5% of all marine species on the planet!) and improve the quality of life of humans across the globe. They are priceless and need to be protected!

Environmentalist and journalist WONNE Afronelly reports on municipal water systems, fisheries management and environmental sustainability issues as a writer for many years in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Photo: Francesco Ungaro; John Turnbull