Coral reefs are like underwater treasures and are also important for the environment and the overall health of Earth.
They offer habitat to almost 25% of the known marine species while providing the local populations with livelihood and sustenance.
The coral reeds also sequester carbon from the environment and protect the coast from storm surges or other extreme climatic events.
The reefs are quite crucial but the ocean has lost 50% of its coverage since the 50s. If we don’t take swift action to protect such natural resources then all coral reeds could be dead before 2050.
Why Are The Coral Reefs Dying?
The coral reefs are threatened by various activities, which are primarily caused by humans. We will talk about the main threats in more detail.
The change in climate can have several negative impacts on the health of coral reefs. It is caused by several factors.
1: Rising levels of the sea: This leads to increased sedimentation and the smothering of the coral reefs.
2: Increase in temperatures: High temperatures put stress on the coral reefs which in turn causes them to bleach and eventually leads to death.
3: Acidification of the oceans: Oceans around the world absorb carbon dioxide from the air and in turn become more acidic. This hampers the rate of growth of the coral reefs and makes them brittle.
4: Changes In Ocean Currents: The changes in ocean currents affect the amount of food available to the coral reefs as well as the dispersal of coral larvae.
5: Changes In Storm Patterns: The strength and frequency of storms around the coral reefs, if massive, can destroy these soft structures.
Destructive Fishing Practices
Different fishing methods have the ability to destroy coral reefs. Let us look at some of them.
1: Overfishing: This can disrupt the balance of a coral reef ecosystem. In some reefs, the giant triton sea snails were poached due to their beautiful shells. As they were removed, the numbers of their natural prey, the crown-of-thorns starfish, exploded in number and lead to further destruction of the coral reefs.
2: Blast fishing: Fishermen burst explosives in the sea to kill fish in the region. This makes it easier for them to catch fish. This method of fishing destroys the coral reefs in the area and in time, leads to the collapse of the fisheries.
3: Cyanide fishing: Fishermen use Sodium cyanide to stun fish living in the reefs. These fishes are then collected and sent to aquariums and fish food trading centers. The cyanide used here kills the coral polyps. Around one sq. meter of the reef is destroyed for every fish caught using this chemical.
Effect Of Pollution On The Coral Reefs
The coral reefs are negatively affected by pollution.
1: Increase in the level of nutrition: Fertilizers that had runoff contribute to eutrophication and dead zones, which damages the reefs.
2: Increase in sediment levels: Stormwater runoff and agriculture affect the level of sedimentation. These sediments land on the reefs and affect their ability to reproduce, grow and feed.
3: Litter: Microplastics and litter reach the corals and block the sunlight available to them. Some corals were also seen to incorporate microplastics into their cell membranes.
Effect of The Coral Reef Destruction
Reefs are biodiversity hotspots and their death affects the nearby ecosystem. Since the 1950s, reef biodiversity has dropped by almost 63%.
There was a huge decrease in the number of fishes caught, even though the fishermen put in additional effort.
Fisheries that rely on coral reef biodiversity to provide a healthy quota of fish are at increasing risk as more coral reefs die.
Corals that have been bleached or damaged are also less of a draw for tourism. Over time, this can impact the local economy.
How Can You Save Them?
Coral experts stated that climate change is the largest threat to the health and biodiversity of these species. Businesses should be working towards setting and actively meeting emissions reduction targets and sustainable development goals (SDGs) in order to help reefs and the environment as a whole.
In some areas, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, crown-of-thorns starfish are removed from the reefs during a population explosion, in an attempt to limit their destructive effects.
Efforts are being made to reduce the impact of destructive fishing practices around coral reefs.
Establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) can help prevent destructive fishing practices, but these need to be properly managed to ensure they’re enforced effectively.