Coral Reefs: “Rainforests of the Sea”


Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and are found in over 100 countries. Habitants include lobsters, clams, seahorses, sponges, sharks, rays, and many more! Coral polyps, an organism related to anemones and jellyfish, are responsible for building reefs. Regarding the immense importance of coral reefs, 25% of the ocean's fish depend on them. In addition, they are used for shelter, finding food, reproduction, and raising young. For example, the well-known Great Barrier Reef off of the coast of Australia is the largest living structure on Earth. It stretches for over 1,400 miles, has around 900 islands, more than 2,900 individual reefs, and provides a home for over 1,500 species of fish. The Great Barrier Reef is also the only living organism you can see from outer space and nearly three million people visit every year.


Coral reefs also have numerous essential advantages, both environmental and economic. An example of an economic advantage includes how the reef system in the Keys of Florida helps support fisheries worth an estimated $100 million every year. Other than this, they help to protect coastal communities from storm surges and erosion from waves, provide millions of jobs through tourism, serve as a habitat for many marine organisms, and are a source of food and future medicine. Furthermore, coral reef plants and animals have been sourced to develop medicine to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and the list goes on. Considering corals are stationary animals, many have evolved chemical defenses to protect themselves from predators. As a result, coral reef ecosystems could soon embody an important source of medical treatments, nutritional supplements, pesticides, cosmetics, and other commercial products.


Despite these outstanding benefits, coral reefs are in danger. They're high biodiversity, does not ensure high resilience and rising ocean temperatures and acidity due to climate change have devastating effects. A phenomenon called ‘coral bleaching’ occurs when the mutual relationship between zooxanthellae and their coral hosts is removed. Moreover, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. Additional threats include pollution, sedimentation, human activities, and unsustainable fishing practices. This issue is significant because if coral reefs vanish completely, hunger, poverty, and political instability as the livelihoods of the peoples of entire countries disappear along with it. Once the coral is dead, the entire reef continues to die and erode, destroying important marine life spawning and feeding grounds.


Although these precious ecosystems are in grave danger, a lot is being done to help protect them. An example is how the Environmental Protect Agency works to protect coral reefs by implementing Clean Water Act programs that protect water quality in watersheds and coastal zones of coral reef areas. The EPA is also developing tools to help adapt coral reefs to better handle changing conditions. However, there are also many ways for everyday people to help protect coral reefs. When visiting, it's important to practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling, as well as avoiding touching reefs or anchoring your boat on the reef. In addition, protection can include, recycling, disposing of trash properly, volunteer work, minimizing the use of fertilizers, environmentally-friendly transportation methods, reducing stormwater runoff, and less energy usage. Most importantly, the best way to help protect this amazing ecosystem is by spreading the word and raising awareness!



National Geographic

The Nature Conservancy

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