Threats to Coral Reefs

Danger in the water.

Coral has often been mistaken for plants or rocks, but it is actually made up of accumulations of individual animals. These are coral polyps, they are small marine invertebrate animals. There are two types of corals, hard and soft. Huge colonies of hard corals form coral reefs in various shapes and vivid colors. These tiny living animals are some of the most constructive and collaborative on Earth. Coral Reefs are known to grow best in warm, clear, waters, usually shallow with a sunny location. Coral reefs form a uniquely diverse ecosystem that provides a home for 25% of all marine species such as: rays, sponge, echinoderm, and numerous types of rare fish, creating a rare mix of food, shelter and socializing, thus playing a key role in life both above and below the oceans surface. Beyond scientific fact and benefit, coral is an artistic fairyland of bright colors and ever changing patterns. Economically healthy coral reefs support commercial and subsistence fisheries, as well as jobs and businesses in relation to tourism and recreation.

Despite its appearance Coral reefs make for a fragile ecosystem, and it is in very real danger of disappearing forever. There are a myriad of issues that threaten its amazing existence, such as: climate change, ocean acidification, blast fishing, cyanide fishing (poisoning to capture aquarium fish), over taxed reef resources, harmful agricultural practices, careless tourism, and over population of natural predators (like the crown-of-thorns starfish). From Florida Key to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the damage is becoming evident.

At Australia’s Great Barrier Reef the crown-of-thorns starfish, a type of echinoderm, equipped with a variable 12 to 19 arms, consume the coral reefs by climbing on them and extending their stomach over them, it then excretes a digestive enzyme transforming the reef into a digestible, liquefied substance. Even though the cause of this current starfish outbreak is not totally clear, it is thought that it could be linked to agricultural runoff, this increases algal blooms that starfish larvae feed on, as well as the removal of the starfish’s natural predators. There has been no viable solution reached for this problem as of yet. The surveyors of the reef are now suggesting that the best way to slow the starfish down is to ensure that human activity in the area is reduced.

Coral bleaching, named for the paled or completely white appearance it causes in once vividly colored coral, is caused by stress-induced expulsion or death of their symbiotic protozoa. The conditions necessary to sustain the zooxanthellae, which can provide up to 90% of a coral’s energy requirements, can no longer be met, this also leaves corals without a vital food source, and while they can survive for a while, they’ll eventually die on their own. In the 1970’s, Jokiel was one of the first scientists to study and research coral bleaching. At a new power plant that had opened, nuclear engineers used a cooling process that began dumping hot water into the bay, this location was near vivid reefs and they were turned white. Until a few decades ago this break down of the coral-algae alliance was rare, but in 1998 a vent opened on the ocean floor drawing excess heat through the ocean waters killing approximately 16% of all corals on Earth.

The warmer water makes zooxanthellae start producing toxins, which causes the corals to expel their algae back out to sea, thus leaving a reef looking bleached,-its white skeleton now showing through its translucent polyps.

Ocean acidification threatens the reef in relation to the climate change, just as carbon dioxide traps heat on Earth, it is also absorbed by the ocean changing the chemistry of the seas water, reducing its pH and making it more acidic. Acidification decreases the number of carbonate ions in the seas water, which is necessary for building calcium carbonate skeletons. It is a subtle death, simply causing slower and slower growth, or no growth at all.

Careless Tourism is also a dire threat to coral reefs due to a variety of irresponsible actions while: boating, diving, snorkeling, and fishing. Not only have people unintentionally killed coral by touching reefs, dropping anchors on reefs, and collecting coral samples, but there have been resorts built directly on top of reefs as well as waste runoff and sewage drained into water where reefs are located.

Luckily, half of the worlds reefs are still healthy today, but if steps are not taken for their preservation they could be gone forever. The first step to saving our coral reefs is education. Here are a few ways we can all try to help save the healthy coral reefs:

Make a conscious effort to keep our waters clean.

Practice safe diving techniques at coral reefs and never touch or pick anything from a reef.

Check before using your anchor to be sure there are no reefs below.

Conserve water so there will be less run off into our oceans.

Write to local government officials and request that they take action in the protection of coral reefs, by stopping sewage runoff and disposal from polluting water and entering our oceans.

Even simply planting a tree can help save our oceans, by changing the effect of global warming.

Please think about what your doing before you throw trash on a shore line.

These are just some simple ways to help make a positive impact on our coral reefs and oceans, now is the best time to make a difference, don‘t wait for it to start to sink in economically to act because then it will be too late.