Protecting Coral Reefs
The ocean is one of the largest bodies of water on Earth. It covers about 97% of the earth’s surface and accounts for almost half of the world’s total water. This vast ocean provides resources and jobs to humans. But the planet’s ocean ecosystems are under growing pressure from many threats. Coral reefs are especially vulnerable to climate change.
Marine biodiversity is vital to the survival of the planet. It modifies the climate, supports coastal communities, and provides food and medicine to humans. Biodiversity is threatened by a number of factors, including overfishing, pollution, and coastal development. In the past 50 years, the greatest impact on marine biodiversity has been from fishing. However, it is increasingly apparent that the global ocean ecosystem needs more attention.
Many international agreements recognize the importance of coral reefs. For example, the International Coral Reef Initiative, an informal partnership among nearly 90 nations, has a Framework for Action. It includes provisions for periodic assessments, capacity building, and science and monitoring. These actions will help ensure that coral reefs and their supporting ecosystems are protected.
Ocean reefs are considered to be among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment. Thousands of different invertebrate and fish species reside in these systems, and their complex structures are a key habitat for endangered sharks. Besides providing critical habitat for these animals, corals recycle nutrients and protect coastal communities.
Coral reefs are home to about 800 species of hard corals and thousands of invertebrate species. They are also home to over 4,000 different fish and other marine life. Several hundred million people depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.
One of the primary threats to coral reefs is overfishing. While the reef ecosystems provide an important source of fish for human consumption, it also contributes to a wide range of economic and cultural benefits. During extreme storms, the reefs help reduce the risk of damage to coastlines in the tropics. And because they are so diverse, they are more resilient to environmental changes.
Another major threat to reefs is sedimentation. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices, along with shoreline construction, have negatively affected the health of coral reefs. Some of these issues can be reduced through good management practices. Also, global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions can help decrease threats to coral reefs.
As the climate warms and ocean acidity increases, corals become more sensitive. Mass bleachings are more common. Bleaching of corals can affect the entire food chain. Eventually, it can lead to the death of the coral, as well as disease, a lower nutrient supply, and the loss of algae.
Increasing climate change and other threats to the ocean will only worsen the situation for coral reefs. Climate change is projected to increase extreme storms, which can cause mass bleachings. Additionally, the ocean acidity is increasing at a faster rate than any observed changes in ocean chemistry over the last 50 million years.