Often called “the rainforests of the ocean”, coral reefs enrich our planet with aquatic life.
The coral itself is an animal that hosts a large variety of organisms. They serve as a source of food and shelter to sponges, jellyfish, sea anemones, sea turtles, clams, crabs, shrimp, starfish, oysters and sea urchins – to name a few.
Coral reefs are important for a variety of reasons. In addition to providing refuge to marine life, coral reefs protect coastlines against erosion.
They also act as sensitive indicators of water quality. This informs us of the overall quality of the eco system. Because they live in a narrow range of conditions, their very existence tells us a lot about the environment in which they thrive. The temperature, salinity, and water quality are a few factors that decide whether an area is suitable for reef life.
As stunning as coral reefs are, lending a bold palette to the ocean, it is little surprise that many tourist flock to see them. As attractions, coral reefs have been an economical boost to many areas.
With so much relying on coral reefs, it may seem odd that they are at risk of elimination.
Though surprisingly resilient against natural catastrophes like hurricanes, coral reefs are unable to recover from human induced stresses. These stresses are often long term and are caused by human sewage and toxic discharge, agricultural and industrial runoff, and increased sedimentation from land clearing. Other stresses are the creations of roadways and parking lots. These consist of impervious structures that increase runoff water rates, even from afar.
Fishermen who practice unorthodox methods of catching fish are another threat. These methods can include sending vessels or bombs into the ocean in order send large amounts of fish out, killing other marine life in the process.
Once reefs are gone, they cannot be restored. No artificial replacements can take their place. Government participation is crucial in ensuring the survival of remaining reefs. Banning harmful practices could greatly help this, as would stronger protection and conservation laws.
Some measures are currently being taken, with the existence of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and others like it. These havens work to enhance the sustainability of coral reefs.
Hopefully more will be done to save coral reefs as we realize nature’s value outlasts that of material gain.
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