Saturday, June 9, 2012

Coral Reefs: The Endangered Gems of Our Seas

A Special Member Report by Sara

Coral reefs. The greatest expression of ocean life in the world, crowned with colorful algae and visited by brightly colored fish. Nearly everyone knows about coral reefs, but how many actually know what they're made of? Some may not know that coral are actually tiny organisms that secrete a hard, rock-like skeleton when they die. These build up to form the structure of a reef, and polyps, which grow on the coral, help the reef to grow and expand. Here are some more interesting facts concerning the sea gems:
  • Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystem on earth, with 30 out of 34 known phylas existing on or near them.
  • They contain 4,000 species of fish, which live off of coral reefs in what is known as mutualistic symbiosis. This is a relationship where both organismsbenefit from each other. In this case, coral reefs benefit fish by providing shelter and protection, as well as a means of food for some fish, and fish assist coral reefs by eating or otherwise prohibintg algae from taking over reefs and killing them.
  • There are coral reefs in Florida.
But coral reefs are on the decline due to several major factors. Some problems they face are:
  • Pollution, the primary cause of coral degradation worldwide. Some pollutants include sediments, pesticides, runoff from agricultural developments, and more, all of which can land on reefs and prevent growth and reproduction, or cause eutrophication, a threat in which too many nutrients in the water cause a decrease in oxygen and water quality.
  • Disease. Coral diseases can be caused by a number of factors: bacteria, fungi, viruses, stress casued by pollution, sedimentation, and increased water temperatures, as well as factors that we aren't even aware of.
  • Overfishing, which occurs despite restriction laws. The removal of such an amount of fish can cause an imbalance in the sensitive coral reef ecosystem, resulting in more destruction of coral reefs.
  • Dynamite and cyanide fishing, two of the more direct means of destruction to coral reefs. Fishers intentionally bomb areas of ocean in order to collect the bodes of fish. It depletes groups of fish and destroys coral reefs, which can take hundreds of years to rebuild. Cyanide fishing involves divers who spray cyanide or other poisons into reef crevices to stun the fish in them. They then remove the fish and sell them. Though it doesn't normally harm the fish, cyanide fishing can bleach coral reefs, and can eventually kill them.
  • Sedimentation. In this process, sediments, or debris from land masses fall into the ocean, and when suspended underwater, can prohibit sunlight from reaching the reefs. Then, when it settles, it lands on reefs and causes some of the same problems as pollution.
  • Bleaching due to an increase in ocean temperatures. It is said to be the most important threat to coral reefs on a global basis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The ocean absorbs carbon emissions, causing water temperatures to increase, which in turn can cause infectious coral diseases to spread, as well as causing coral bleaching.
We know that we can help coral reefs, but did you know that coral reefs help us? For example, they:
  • Bring in an annual revenue of $375 billion.
  • Supply 10% of the world's diet.
  • Provide untapped pharmaceutical resources for today's medicines. They are being developed as possible cures for arthritis, infections, viruses, and other diseases, including cancer (
  • Protect the coastlines of about 109 countries.
So as you can see, we need coral reefs and the benefits they provide for us, but maybe even more do they need us. 25% of coral reefs have disappeared already, and two-thirds of them are on their way out. Coral reefs may be gone completely in fifty or so years if we don't do something to help.
Fortunately, there are ways we can help:
  1. Minimize your use of fertilizers, detergents, and pesticides so that they don't end up in a waterway; just as all roads lead to Rome, all waterways eventually lead to the ocean.
  2. Conserve water. It decreases the amount of wastewater polluting oceans and thereby harming reefs.
  3. Do your best to keep trash out of landfills and oceans. Recycling helps.
Project Blue Hope ( has also provided ways for us to help preserve our ever-raring sea gems:
  1. Petition the government to protect reefs. There are already several government organizations enacted that study the reefs and ways that they can be better protected.
  2. Learn more about reefs and share what you know with others; the more you know, the more you can help.
  3. Support "green" businesses, "businesses that are eco-friendly are also reef-friendly" (Project Blue Hope). Check out the National Green Pages for buisiness that are environment friendly.
  4. Consume only seafood that is sustainable. Remember overfishing? Eat seafood that is able to reproduce as fast or faster as it is being consumed. Seafood Watch is a website that tells you what kinds of seafood are sustainable, and those that aren't, so you can support reef ecosystems that can support and sustain themselves.
So what are you waiting for? We can help coral reefs! Though it may seem like nothing, it may ultimately save the world (or at least the reefs' part of it)! Let's get started on preserving the greatest expression of ocean life.
Finally, we need coral reefs, and they need us. We need an ocean of beauty not just for today, but for tomorrow. We can help save the "gems of the sea", simply by choosing our seafood carefully, watching what we put in waterways, limiting the use of harmful products such as detergent and pesticides, and by spreading the word. Maybe down the road, future generations can enjoy the beauty of coral reefs, just as we preserved them.

1 comment:

  1. neat! we need to realize that littering and such actions can cause unwanted consequences.