The rapidly deteriorating fish population is largely due to the destruction of coral reefs. Since coral reefs are some of the most diverse, ecosystems in the world, they are home to ten’s of thousands of different species and without them, our oceans would be a very dark and lifeless place. Coral reefs support about 25% of marine species in the ocean, and these species vary so much that coral reefs are home to more diverse marine life than any other habitat.
The importance of coral reefs doesn’t stop there, coral reefs also provide humans with many valuable services. They give us food, shoreline protection from intense waves and storms, and medicine. When we need to get up close and study various marine life for scientific purposes, coral reefs provide a natural hub full of different species in the ocean. We even benefit from the economic opportunities coral reefs provide from widespread tourism and sale of the food and medicine coral reefs provide. According to the World Meteorological Organization, coral reefs yield more than $30 billion dollars annually in global goods and services like coast-line protection, foods and medicine.
Even though coral reefs have benefitted us humans in so many different ways, our actions are destroying coral reefs and the lives of those species living in the ocean. I first learned about this growing issue when I was on vacation in Key West, Florida. I had read about the Florida Keys Eco-discovery center Online and wanted to visit it for myself. I was amazed at all the information there was about the native plants and animals in the Keys. Because coral reefs are abundant in places like Key West due to the tropical weather, an entire exhibit is dedicated to raise awareness of the importance of corals reefs. When I walked into the Mote Marine Laboratory, I was greeted with a 2,500 gallon reef tank full of beautiful living corals, tropical fish and other displays that highlighted the coral reef environment. But I also walked through a coral reef exhibit that explains all of the damage everyday human activities are causing to coral reefs. That was when the importance of coral reefs truly became apparent to me and how necessary it is that we stop it.
Despite all of the wonders and beauties coral reefs hold, several human activities that occur ever single day are destroying coral reefs faster than they can generate. Ocean pollution, global warming, sedimentation - all of which have to potential to destroy 30% of the existing reefs in the next 30 years. Over-fishing not only reduces the variety of fish living in coral reefs, but disrupts the balance between diverse corals and the many creatures and plants that live there. The combination of increased water temperatures, bleaching, diseases, pollution and overfishing will all threaten coral reef systems over the next 25 years.
Already 20% of coral reefs have been destroyed and shown no signs of recovery. This is largely due to a combination of global warming, rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching. Global climate change is on the rise because humans continue to burn fossil fuels that release sulfates and nitrates into the atmosphere through cars, factories and more. This is commonly known as the greenhouse effect because the atmosphere increases in temperature as more fossil fuel emissions are released into the air, and if the atmosphere increases in temperature then so does the ocean. Warmer oceans cause harsh tropical storms that harm the marine life and coral reefs. These emissions also find their way to the oceans in the form of acid rain. Acid rain is, in turn, increasing the average temperatures of our oceans and making ocean water more acidic. The more acidic the ocean gets, the more difficult it is for corals to build the skeleton that supports their structure and then they can’t properly provide homes for other sea creatures. Higher sea temperatures is what causes coral bleaching, and bleaching makes coral reefs more vulnerable. Corals and algae have a symbiotic relationship, algae provides the coral with food that gives them their color. Higher water temperatures reduce the amount of algae in the ocean, so corals lose their major food source, turn extremely white or pale (which is why it’s called coral bleaching) and become extremely susceptible to diseases.
I believe that we all need to take time to understand how vital coral reefs are to not only ourselves, but also to the marine wildlife that depends on coral reefs. Most coral reefs don’t stand a chance unless we learn what we need to do and how we can change our daily actions to do it.