Natalie has a keen interest in conservation and writes about endangered species to raise awareness.
What Are 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 Can They Be Found?
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.
Why Are Coral Reefs So Important?
Despite only occupying a tiny percentage of the world's oceans, coral reefs are home to approximately 25% of all marine species. They provide crucial support for biodiversity, and it is estimated that there are more than one million plant and animal species associated with reef ecosystems. There are around 4000 species of fish and 700 species of coral that reside in and around 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 waves during storms, which helps to prevent coastal erosion. A large amount of money is likely saved each year due to coral reefs, as without their protection, insurance costs could be much higher for those living in certain areas, and additional coastal defenses would need to be constructed.
Organisms found in coral reefs are used in the treatment of certain serious diseases, and it is thought that further medical advances might be made if the reefs are maintained to allow for additional research and development.
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Another area where reefs are beneficial to humans is tourism. A large amount of revenue is generated from visitors to the coral reefs, and in poorer countries, reef tourism can provide an important source of income.
What Are the Main Threats to Our Reefs?
There are many threats facing our coral reefs. One of these is climate change. Increased levels of coral bleaching are occurring due to global warming, and there is a likelihood that this will 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 is another issue that affects the health of reefs.
What Can We Do to Protect Them?
There are several ways that coral reefs can be protected. Visitors to 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 up to tourists to protect our reefs, though. 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 human and marine life provided by the coral reefs, they are also areas of astounding natural beauty, which for some is reason enough to protecting them.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.