Coral Reefs: Save them before its too late

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Coral Reefs: Save them before its too late

Climate change has become a global issue for the survival of life on earth whether it is of human or any other species. Corals are one of those species which are in danger due to climate change. Corals are so fragile that they can not even survive in a little unfair environment. They need perfect conditions to survive. Sarcastically they are not humans that have the brains to evolve themselves according to the situation. Coral reefs have existed on earth for 500 billion years. The building of coral reefs is a very slow process to take place, once destroyed can not be reversed as much soon.

What are coral reefs?

A coral reef is the most diverse and threatened underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, whose polyps cluster in groups.  

There are two main types of corals, hard corals, and soft corals. Stony corals, or hard corals, are reef-building corals. They have hard calcium carbonate skeletons that provide the structure that helps hold coral polyp colonies together. Soft corals on the other hand are soft and bendable and have a wood-like core and fleshy exterior. They often resemble trees or plants. Coral reefs occupied 0.1% of the world’s ocean, yet they are very helpful and provide a home to 25% of marine lives. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef. It is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometers (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometers (133,000 sq mi).

Why are Coral reefs important?

Coral reef plays an important role in supporting a large number of marine species. They also contribute to benefiting humans by preventing coastal erosion, protecting from storms, and supporting jobs ranging from fishing to tourism. Coral reefs have an economic value of hundreds of USD per year. Coral reefs are often called the rainforest of the ocean. They help in carbon and nitrogen-fixing in the nutrient cycle.

Threats to Coral Reefs

Climate change

Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific studies have indicated that the Earth's atmosphere and ocean temperatures are increasing every year, and these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases released due to human activities. An increase in ocean temperature causes stress for coral reefs and they expel their zooxanthellae(a process known as bleaching). Without zooxanthellae, corals are susceptible to illness and death. Recent research has found that the frequency of large-scale coral bleaching events (“mass bleaching”) has increased dramatically in the last 40 years, to the point that corals often have insufficient time to recover between bleaching events.

Ocean acidification

Excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can harm coral reefs through a process called ocean acidification. Oceans can absorb about 30% of atmospheric carbon dioxide. But as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, it would lower the pH level of seawater, causing it to become more acidic. Corals, in particular those with calcium carbonate skeletons, require near-perfect conditions to grow and flourish. If the ocean water is too acidic, then corals may not build their base skeleton for the coral reefs.

Pollution

Corals always survive in clean water and adequate condition like salinity, temperature, nutritional content, etc. pollution causing content whether its litter or toxic oil waste is reaching the coral reefs through rivers from the land. Water pollution is damaging coral reefs worldwide. Some pollutants, such as sewage and runoff from farming reach the ocean through rivers and increase the level of nitrogen in seawater. As a result, causing an overgrowth of algae, which 'smothers' reefs by cutting off their sunlight.

Overfishing and destructive methods of fishing

Fishing with normal procedures is always fine. But destructive methods like dynamite, cyanide can damage entire reefs. Once destroyed, corals reefs can not be recovered. Damaging the coral reef habitat eventually reduces the productivity of the area. Consequently, it will affect the livelihood of fishermen only in future

Careless tourism

Coral reefs are the greatest attraction to tourists all over the world. But some people do it very carelessly. Careless boating, diving, snorkeling, and fishing happens around the world. People used to touch the reefs with their hands and stirring up the sediments. Dropping anchors from boats causes a lot of harm to coral reefs. Some tourist resorts and infrastructure have been built directly on top of reefs. Resorts on the beachside used to drain their sewage into the ocean directly.

What is coral bleaching?

Coral bleaching is a process by which corals and anemones lose their zooxanthellae and color too. Bleaching is a stress response that can be triggered due to temperature changes (too hot or too cold), too much or too little light, changes in salinity, or other stressors. Nowadays, the biggest cause of coral bleaching is rising ocean temperatures. Bleaching is not always fatal, but it can lead to disease and death because corals and anemones rely on the zooxanthellae to survive.

How can we save coral reefs?

Eco-friendly sunscreen: 

We all should try to use eco-friendly sunscreen because most sunscreen contains harmful chemicals that pollute the ocean water and ultimately coral reefs. Sunscreens that use non-nano zinc oxide as their active ingredients rather safe to use. 

Lower your Carbon emission:

Decreasing the carbon emission to the atmosphere to limit the increase in the temperature of the atmosphere and ocean water. Controlled ocean temperature is the only way for corals to survive

Reduce, reuse, recycle:

These three R’s strategy is the key to save the planet earth. Reduce your waste and try to recycle it as much as possible. Alongside beaches, try not to throw trash in open. Throw it in the dustbin and tell others to do the same. Try to live a sustainable living and decrease your waste

Energy efficiency: 

Always purchase energy-efficient lights and bulbs for your home. Try to keep your home energy efficient so that you can use a low amount of energy

Participate in the annual cleanup campaign:

Join hands together to clean the beaches and save marine lives. Spread awareness among people nearby. Check with your local environmental organizations for the cleaning runs of beaches and rivers.

Do what you can do best because coral reefs are the barrier to unknown destruction and their survival is the tipping point for other ecosystems. If they died, then other eco-system including humans could no longer be alive. Take it as an alarming situation and react accordingly because there is no planet B.

References: 

  1. US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration. “How Does Climate Change Affect Coral Reefs?” NOAA's National Ocean Service, 3 Mar. 2015, UR
  2. “Coral Reefs and Climate Change.” IUCN, 31 Aug. 2018, URL 

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