23rd November 2020
Healthy and colourful coral reefs (Source: The Conversation)
Coral reefs are considered to be one of the most elegant gifts from nature to humanity. Their beauty is unmatched, and so is their value. Reefs occupy less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of the ocean floor, and they host more than 800 coral species and 4,000 fish species in the ocean. They are known to be breeding grounds for marine life, and act as storm barriers and leave tourists gobsmacked with the beauty they bring to the scenic view of the ocean and known to be profitable tourist attractions.
The attraction of coral reefs has been valued up to 30 billion annually, according to Science Direct. However, the rise of human activity has impacted the coral reefs, and they have been declining since the 1970s.
One of the leading promoters of coral depletion is due to overfishing which disturbs large predators, smaller prey species and 'grazers' in their different habitats, such as parrotfish and urchins that filter large algae from corals. They spew the algae out of their shells when corals feel distressed by pollution, temperature fluctuations or acidity. This process is described as coral bleaching since it is the algae which provide the colour, and they appear white without it. Without the algae being present, the corals can't survive for long.
Corals have the inbuilt capacity to recover, but it is a demanding process that may result in them dying. As seawater absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, acidification limits the amount of carbonate available to corals to develop their skeletons, such that reefs develop more slowly and then become weaker.
Experts say that corals are not willing to give up because of pollution. Some have recognised features that help tolerate warming and acidification by some specific corals. Others condition corals in altered waters to survive, just like athletes learn to compete at elevated altitudes or in extreme weather.
Countries which have regulated fishing, coastal advancement and tourism, such as Bermuda, have maintained far less coral losses than nations that have failed to enforce similar controls, such as Jamaica.
“The United States, ironically, spends a fortune on coral reef surveillance, but doesn't do much to preserve them,” said Jeremy Jackson, the Director of the Centre of Marine Diversity while talking to Climate Central.
The loss and threat to corals began to attract media exposure in 1998. Since then, by Presidential Executive Order in 1998, the United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) was formed to get the US to conserve and protect coral reef habitats.
The USCRTF implemented the National Plan of Action to Protect Coral Reefs (National Plan of Action) in 2000. This plan was the first blueprint to resolve the problems of coral reef loss for US domestic and foreign actions. This strategy is composed of conservation measures to overcome the issues facing the reef today.
There are many organisations, identical to the USCRTF, seeking to make a difference by protecting coral reefs and the world around it, such as Coral Reef Alliance, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ocean Conservancy and many more.
We as humanity can always do something, and we must start with small steps such as conserving and preserving water, finding ways to reduce pollution, avoiding using pesticides and ensuring the cleanliness of beaches. Stopping the use of plastic, supporting reef-friendly businesses, planting more trees and most importantly spreading awareness about the reefs will also help.
(Sources: National Geographic, NOAA, The Guardian, Forbes)
Edited by: Suditi Jha