Coral Reefs: Why Conservation is So Important
Did you know that coral reefs are actually small animals related to jellyfish? Corals live together in large groups and form huge interconnected colonies known as coral reefs. Coral reefs are often found in shallow, tropical seas where a special algae has enough sunlight to make food. The algae also give the coral its color- a healthy coral is typically yellow to brown. Using energy from the algae, some corals form reefs by building an external skeleton from a mineral called calcium carbonate. These reefs are an essential habitat for a wide variety of animal and plant species.
Coral reefs benefit people in many ways on a global scale. About 400 million people rely on coral reef fish as a source of protein and about 6 million people make a living by catching and selling coral reef fish and invertebrates. Tourism activities, such as SCUBA diving and snorkeling, provide a revenue of 6 billion dollars per year. Most importantly, reefs reduce wave energy by 97%, helping to protect 197 million people in coastal areas from beach erosion, wave energy and flooding.
The largest coral reef in the United States is located in southeast Florida. Florida’s reef creates 70,000 jobs and its residents enjoy each of the previously listed benefits.
Despite their high value, the future of coral reefs is currently in danger. Recent studies have shown that many reefs worldwide have lost 50-90% of live coral over the past 30-40 years. So what does this mean, you might ask. If the coral reef continues to deplete, not only will jobs be in danger the ecosystem of the ocean is in danger. Conservation and restoration of coral reef habitats are key to their future and the future of nations that depend on them. Whether you live near the coast or far away there are strategies to help reduce the negative impacts on these ecosystems and preserve their services for years to come.
Threats and How You Can Help
Climate Change– When oceans become warmer than usual, reef-building corals can lose the important algae that live within their tissues. This process is called bleaching and has become more common over time.
- Reduce your use of fossil fuels-carpooling, walking, biking or using public transportation and using less electricity at home
- Eat locally when possible-buy locally as much as possible to reduce the use of fossil fuels for shipping
- Start your own vegetable garden (UF/IFAS Extension has many publications that can help you get started, or contact your local Agricultural Agent)
Coastal Runoff and Pollution- most of the pollution that enters the ocean originates on land. Development along shorelines and fertilizer runoff damage and smother coral, preventing it from growing new colonies.
- Reduce or adjust your use of fertilizer-use native plants that use less fertilizer, pesticides and water.
- Limit use of plastics and be sure to reuse, recycle and properly dispose-reduce the amount of plastics you use and make sure to properly dispose of them
- Leave nothing behind when diving, snorkeling, or fishing-don’t leave your garbage and clean up whenever you see some
Overfishing-Fish are important to the overall balance of the coral reef ecosystem. Overfishing can effect the entire food chain of a coral reef and can be very destructive.
- Choose your seafood and pets wisely-choose alternatives when dining out, such as not ordering parrotfish or choose an alternative to large coral reef predators like shark. Don’t buy wild-caught ornamental fish, make sure your pets come from a farm.
- Know your marine park and fishing laws-marine protected areas are tools used to preserve marine resources in an area by preventing certain activities that can harm marine life.
- Do not catch or harm herbivores-These species are important grazers of damaging algae on coral reefs.
Physical Damage-Anchors dropping and damaging contact from divers contribute to the degradation of coral reefs.
- Keep your hands and gear off the reef- secure your gear and be aware of your surroundings so that nothing touches or damages the reef.
- Do not collect souvenirs from the reef- corals are animals and not just rocks, look but do not touch.
- Choose sustainable dive operations- Choose a dive operator that is committed to marine sustainability.
- When possible, use mooring bouys instead of anchoring- Mooring bouys are safer and easier than anchoring and safer for the reef.
Learn more about coral reef conservation by clicking here. Coral reef conservation is important not only for our lifestyles and livelihoods, but for the well-being of the animals living within it.
Chris Vann- Extension Agent- Agriculture/4-H