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The Destruction of the Coral Reefs

by Olivia Ortlieb

Over the last few decades, coral reefs, one of our planet’s most magnificent and valuable ecosystems, have been rapidly declining. Over the last 30 years alone, Earth has lost around 50% of its coral reefs, and this loss is expected to increase to 90% by 2050. If you find these figures alarming, you’re not alone - coral reefs are essential to the health of our oceans and provide jobs for millions of people across the globe. Here’s a rundown on why the reefs are dying, the potential consequences, and how you can help.

The Cause:

The main factor leading to the decline of the reefs is coral bleaching - a phenomenon that occurs when corals are exposed to abnormally warm or polluted water, causing them to expel algae from their tissues and turn white. This algae is the main source of nutrients for most coral, and without it they quickly starve. It’s possible for corals to recover from these bleaching events if conditions return to normal, but it can take decades for them to do so completely. Global warming is causing severe bleaching events to occur much more often, which means that the reefs don’t have time to recover and die off.

Another contributing factor to this issue is cyanide and dynamite fishing, which involves using cyanide or dynamite to stun fish so that they can be caught more easily. These fish are then used for saltwater aquariums. While these practices don’t typically kill fish, they can be fatal to the sensitive corals. Unfortunately, these types of fishing are fairly widespread, making them significant threats to reefs.

Similarly, pollutants such as fertilizer and oil can poison corals and lead to outbreaks of disease. Floating garbage and sediment can also prevent light from reaching the corals, making them unable to access the nutrients they need to survive.

Tourism also poses a threat to the well-being of many reefs as they often stand on or break off pieces of coral. Tour boats can also cause harm if they smash into reefs in shallow waters or if their anchors are carelessly dropped into patches of coral.

The Consequences:

I remember the first time I went snorkelling at a coral reef. It was really amazing seeing all of the bright coral and weird and wonderful fish, and I find it incredibly sad that future generations might never have the chance to explore these beautiful natural wonders. But beyond their stunning appearance, reefs have immense value in the lives of many people and animals. Their disappearance would be devastating to the lives of millions and negatively impact many fish species. Coral reefs are believed to be the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and over 25% of all fish species inhabit them. Furthermore, reefs are essential homes for many young deep water fish until they are big enough to survive in the open ocean. Tens of thousands of people worldwide also rely on the jobs created by reef tourism, and many communities use reef fish as their primary source of food and income. Additionally, reefs serve as an important barrier between many cities and the ocean. Without them, these coastal settlements would be hit much harder by natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes.

How You Can Help:

Here’s some easy ways to make a difference and help save our incredible coral reefs. As mentioned previously, the main cause of this issue is global warming. A great way to help is by reducing your carbon footprint, such as by walking to school, eating less meat, and limiting your electricity usage. If you keep saltwater aquariums, avoid buying wild caught fish as they are often collected from reefs. Lastly, if you ever have the opportunity to visit a reef, dive responsibly! Be careful not to touch or stand on any coral, and use reef-friendly sunscreen to ensure that you won’t be introducing chemicals to the ecosystem.

Works Cited:

Meyer, Robinson. “Since 2016, Half of All Coral in the Great Barrier Reef Has Died.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 18 Apr. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/since-2016-half-the-coral-in-the-great- barrier-reef-has-perished/558302/.

Witschge, Loes. “Why Are Coral Reefs Important, and Why Are They Dying?” Climate SOS | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 29 Jan. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/coral-reefs- important-dying-180128135520949.html.

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