The dying coral reefs around the world appear to be getting far less media attention than the deforestation in the rain forests. Yet the problem is just as important and could lead to a much more dangerous world than we know today.
Coral reefs are essentially a type of aquatic life that creates a vibrant underwater world that is home to many underwater animals. Here, you will find sea turtles, sharks, crabs, clown fish, and so much more. Birds also gather in the waters above the coral reefs to feed on the fish. This vibrant section of the ocean covers less than 1% of the ocean floor’s surface, but it is home to over 25% of its wildlife. It is very much the backbone of the ocean food chain.
The impact of coral reefs above the water is just as important. For humans, the coral reefs provide the economic boost of tourism and fishing, accounting for well over $375 billion to the global economy. They also provide millions of people around the world with a food source, as well as medicines for such conditions as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, to name just a few. If that’s not enough, coral reefs also are located in the warm, shallow waters near five of the seven continents as well as numerous island systems around the world. The coral reefs act as a natural barrier against erosion, protecting valuable coastline and property.
Yet through over-fishing, carbon emissions leading to global warming, pollution, and other factors, these coral reefs are dying at an astonishing rate. In fact, over a quarter of the coral reefs have already died, and experts agree that coral reefs could be extinct around the world in a hundred years if drastic steps aren’t taken immediately. The world without coral reefs would be incredibly different, and would likely result in a complete collapse of aquatic life. With the world’s oceans void of aquatic life, major industries like food, tourism, and pharmaceuticals would also be majorly affected. The ultimate result of coral reefs around the world dead include poverty and hunger on a worldwide scale, as well as political turmoil and civil unrest.
Scientists around the world are in a race against time to save the world’s coral reefs. The US Geological Survey has been tasked with a major research project to identify the impacts of natural and human processes on the reefs. Scientists around the world are also making an effort to help fragile areas of the coral reefs rebuild. Greenpeace has implemented a project off the coast of Thailand where a destructive 2004 tsunami resulted in major loss of life and property on shore as well as incredible destruction to the reefs below. Greenpeace is transplanting healthy pieces of living coral into areas that have been damaged, and then protecting them fish and currents with netting. This same process is being repeated around the world.
While scientists are slowly making headway in rebuilding the reefs, there are steps individuals can take as well. With the world’s coral reefs dying off faster than we can rebuild them, a global effort that starts at the individual level is vital to the coral reefs survival. With carbon emissions leading to global warming that is killing the coral reefs, cutting back on your own carbon emissions is the first step. Start with a small change such as changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and choose to walk, ride, a bike, or carpool whenever possible. Even if you live hundreds of miles from the ocean, pay attention to the fertilizers and pesticides you use at home, as these products inevitably enter runoff that ends up in our oceans. Organic options are just as effective and much safer for the coral reefs. If you visit the coral reefs, avoid touching them as this can harm them, and be sure to only wear environmentally safe sunscreen. These are just a few of the many changes you can take that will help to ensure coral reefs are here for generations to come.