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Protecting Coral Reefs

Updated on October 22, 2017
Natalie Cookson profile image

Natalie has a keen interest in conservation and writes about endangered species to raise awareness.

Coral
Coral | Source

About Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are incredibly diverse marine ecosystems. They are built by various forms of marine life, the main ones being stony corals and coralline red algae. The corals and algae extract calcium and bicarbonate from the water and combine them, which forms calcium carbonate, also known as limestone. The limestone provides the protective outer layer for the coral polyps. Over time, these outer skeletons become coral reefs. It is a very slow process, with reefs being formed over decades and centuries.

Where to Find Them

Coral reefs can be found in parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They can only be formed in a particular environment as the animals that build them need sunlight. For this reason, reefs are found in clear, shallow waters. The water also needs to be warm.

There are three major regions where coral reefs develop. These are the Indo-Pacific, which includes much of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean, the tropical west Atlantic, including Florida and the Bahamas, and the Red Sea.

Some of the most well known coral reefs are the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Red Sea Coral Reef and the Andros Barrier Reef in the Bahamas.

Fish swimming among corals
Fish swimming among corals | Source

Their Importance

Despite only occupying a tiny percentage of the world's oceans, coral reefs are home to approximately 25% of marine species. They support biodiversity, with an estimation that there are more than one million plant and animal species associated with the ecosystem. There are around 4000 species of fish and 700 species of coral in the reefs, along with many other plants and animals.

Coral reefs are also beneficial to humans. Fisheries rely on them as they provide nurseries for ocean fish. It is suggested that approximately one billion people rely on coral reefs for revenue from fishing and for food.

They also provide protection by breaking and lessening the power of the waves during storms, which helps to prevent coastal erosion. A large amount of money may be saved each year due to the coral reefs, as without their protection insurance costs could be higher for those living in certain areas, and there may be more need to build coastal defenses.

Organisms found in coral reefs are used in the treatment of some serious diseases, and it is thought that further medical advances could be made if the reefs are maintained.

Another area where the reefs are beneficial to humans is tourism. A large amount of revenue is generated from visitors to the coral reefs, and in poorer countries tourism to the reefs can provide an important source of income.

Fish swimming in coral reef
Fish swimming in coral reef | Source

How to Protect Them

There are various threats facing the coral reefs. One of these is climate change. Increased levels of coral bleaching have occurred due to global warming and there is a likelihood that this could continue.

Certain fishing practices are also a threat. Bottom trawling, dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing are very destructive. Overfishing is also an issue, as it affects the ecological balance and disrupts the food chain.

Some tourism practices can also be a threat. There have been resorts built on top of reefs, with some emptying waste into the water. There are also issues with anchors being dropped in reefs and divers collecting coral. Coral mining for industrial or souvenir purposes are other issues that can damage the reefs.

There are several ways that coral reefs can be protected. Visitors to the reefs can ensure that they do not touch the corals and that anchors are not used in these areas. Mooring buoys can be used as an alternative. Tourists can also help by avoiding buying coral souvenirs and choosing hotels that use sustainable practices.

It is not only tourists to the reefs that can help protect them. Adopting environmentally friendly practices such as recycling, conserving water and reducing pesticide use can also help. As global warming is a threat to the coral reefs, reducing your carbon footprint could be beneficial.

Those who want to help the coral reefs can also make donations to one of the organisations working to protect them.

Along with the benefits to humans and marine life provided by the coral reefs, they are also areas of beauty, which for some would be reason enough for protecting them.

Divers
Divers | Source

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    • Natalie Cookson profile image
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      Natalie Cookson 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks for the comment! I've never been to Hawaii, it looks beautiful.

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha Natalie, excellent article! Thanks so much for advocating coral reef protection. In Hawaii, we always try to remind tourists not to touch or stand on corals while snorkeling. Sunscreens are also bad! The oily chemicals are toxic to both coral and fish. Use biodegradable and coral reef safe sunscreen only, please everyone!