Coral reef destruction is threatening our world's oceans

The World’s oceans are under threat from coral reef destruction.
Most scuba divers are aware of the threat to and destruction of coral reefs, what is maybe not so well known is the impact this will have on the oceans as a whole and perhaps the impact on humans on shore.

There is a lot of news coverage on global warming and its impact on our world with not so much being said about what is happening to our seas, beyond the usual commentaries about how fish stocks are dwindling. Not very much is said about why, how and what that means beyond there being less fish to eat.
Much too slowly people are beginning to realise how the well being of the earth is as a whole, upon the health of the oceans and vice versa.

Global warming is happening, no-one is disputing that, the causes are being disputed though. The analogy that the earth has a fever may be relevant and we humans are making her sick.

Even if you put aside the global warming problem, no-one can deny that humans and their activities, on land and sea, are harming our oceans at an alarming pace.

agricultural pollution

Our waste that we throw into landfills (when we are ‘controlling’ it) as well as the human waste in sewerage, industrial pollution and agricultural pollution which we carelessly dipose of in the most convenient manner at hand, very often ends up in the sea, in the form of rainfall runoff or purposely thrown into our rivers and lakes. A vast amount of this pollution finally comes to be in our oceans.

I have on another page, discussed the North Pacific Gyre which is an example of an unexpected result of land originating waste having significant impact on ocean ecosystems.

The importance of coral reefs

Golden Butterflyfish

We are witnessing the dwindling fish stocks, coastal erosion on unprecedented scales without most of us realising the reasons are that all of this poison we are pouring into our waters is killing our sealife and included in that ocean ecosystem is our coral reefs.

Coral reefs are the foundation for the seas ecology, providing habitat for approximately 25% of all sea life.
They form coastal barriers protecting the shorelines from wave erosion.

Without healthy reefs fish populations will seriously decline and coastal erosion will increase significantly.
Human population will suffer as a result, particularly coastal populations and those dependent on fish for livelihoods and/or sustenance. Coral reefs are the heart of the oceans.
The reefs are a lynch pin around which thriving tourist industries revolve – the Caribbean coral reefs alone are estimated to generate over USD10 billion a year.

The coral reef destruction we are witnessing now is projected to cost over USD300 000 000.00, in lost scuba diving revenue alone, per year by 2015.

Caribbean Reefs endangered

The World Resources Institute released a report Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean categorising the threats contributing to the world’s coral reef destruction being in the following main categories:

  • coastal development
  • watershed-based sediment
  • pollution (like runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from farms)
  • marine-based pollution and damage
  • overfishing

The reefs are categorised under four levels of threat:
  • Very High
  • High
  • Medium
  • Low

To put that into some sort of perspective – high levels of threat indicates considerable coral reef destruction already taken place with the likelihood of further damage over the coming five to ten years.

Coral reef destruction in the Caribbean

20% of reefs are threatened by –
Agricultural based activity which may be pesticide spills

Increased algae growth, from fertilizers, which smothers the reef and blocks sunlight from the corals.

Increased siltation from land based soil erosion which also suffocates the reef.

15% of reefs are threatened by –
Marine pollution from boats and ships
Anchor damage
Waste water (including sewage
Ocean oil spills.

Coastal development has also had a part to play in terms of dredging, land reclamation, sewage discharges and sand and limestone mining for construction all contributing to the coral reef destruction.

Storm activity has only increased the damage to reefs. The fact that the reefs are already stressed has made them less able to cope with naturally occurring events like storms.

While this situation is dire and unchecked will wreak havoc upon the worlds reef systems and the ocean ecosystem, measures to control this are relatively low cost.
These include better management practices, sustainable fishing, protection of the reefs from direct damage and holistic approaches to reef conservation including all stakeholders.
Governments need take coral reef destruction seriously rather than leaving it up to groups in the private sector as often seems to be the case.

According to Reefs at Risk, only 6 percent of the 285 designated marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Caribbean region were rated as effectively managed, while 48 percent of the MPAs were rated as inadequate.

My own opinion is that whilst some governments are swayed by lobbyists and others are subject to corruption’s diseased grip, progress towards sustained and effective reef conservation will be slow and time is running out.

as the song says -
’Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you got till it's gone, They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’…….

Source: Big Yellow Taxi - Counting Crows

Here are some statistics:

  • 33% of 704 coral species studied, face a greater threat of extinction as global warming takes effect.
  • In some reefs there are declines of up to 80% in the number of species living on the reefs.
  • 25% of sea life inhabits and is dependent on the coral reefs.
  • 1% of the earth is covered by coral reef.
  • An average of 600 square miles of living coral has died each year in the Pacific Ocean since 1968. Coral reef destruction has doubled to 1200 square miles a year after 1995.

  • Other factors:

    The removal of certain fish species by way of overfishing has a second impact – these fish are responsible for the control of algae, without these fish in sufficient numbers the algae increases and takes over the reef, destroying coral by blocking vital sunlight – in the Caribbean 30% of reefs are under high threat and 30% under medium threat due to this development.

    Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing the acidity levels of the seas which causes the shells of shellfish and corals to soften or crumble because the acidity starts to dissolve the shells. This is known as ocean acidification.

    Bleached coral

    Coral reef destruction from bleaching of the Coral happens when warmer seas deplete corals of the algae they feed on. Without the algae the coral polyps starve and die. The corals go white in death and so it is known as ‘bleaching events’.
    The increasing frequency of bleaching events means that there isn’t enough of an interval between those occurrences to allow the reefs to recover and there is an incremental decline, the coral reef destruction is greater each time.

    Elkhorn Coral affected by White Pox

    Warmer seas seem also to be cultivating diseases which are devastating reefs – such as Whitepox which seems to attack healthy reefs more than damaged reefs, may be caused by bacteria from human fecal waste.

    Raw sewage pumped into the sea

    Experts believe focus should be on overall protection of reefs rather than focusing on individual species. Evidence has shown that reefs can in fact recover quite quickly when protected from mans' activities like water pollution and overfishing and harmful coastal development.

    Researchers have discovered one coral that survives bleaching events by changing its feeding habits by increasing its consumption of plankton when algae is depleted by warmer seas.

    According to Geologist Andrea Grottoli of Ohio State University, biologist Lisa Rodrigues of Villanova University and ecologist James Palardy of Brown University, some corals seem to bounce back from bleaching events more quickly than others.
    M. capitata managed to regain all its strength by increasing its feeding on plankton more than fivefold.
    In effect, this polyp had gone from an efficient of algae-provided food to an efficient hunter of plankton, by doing that avoided the starvation killing other corals.

    At the end of all this, the problem at heart remains that all estimates are just that – estimates.
    The impact of each decline or extinction can in no way be fully taken into account when all of the ramifications are unknown.

    Just how acidic does the sea need to become before the shell life and corals begin to dissolve?

    The Elkhorn and Staghorn corals which were placed on the endangered list in 2006 are major reef building species, if they decline or disappear what else is exposed and in turn threatened?

    The sooner the world at large realises the extent of the importance of coral reefs, the better.

    We are playing Russian Roulette with our future.

    Coral reef recovery hopes

    To read about other issues like Coral reef destruction, click here

    Global warming and coral reefs

    Global warming and the 11th Hour documentary

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    Not rated yet ! Coral reefs have a lot of importance but i don't know why we humans are not getting this point and stopping its degradation. A very informative …

    Holdan Not rated yet
    I think that the coral reefs are deeply in danger. We should sink old ship into a place where there is no corals so that the ship can coralize and start …

    Abagail  Not rated yet
    Coral Reef and other major bodies of water are in fact being destroyed, mostly by human activities. We are constantly pumping chemicals and waste into …

    Jakob Hall Not rated yet
    Very helpful article Thanks

    Devon Fuller Not rated yet
    This is a very interesting article

    lily  Not rated yet
    nice work but how can we stop coral reef destruction

    lily  Not rated yet
    nice work but how can we stop coral reeef destruction

    fred Not rated yet
    everyone that are killing corral reefs are idiots! :P

    Thomas Not rated yet
    Helped me with some research about it. Thanks!!!

    AmberNicole Not rated yet
    Really people should listen because we really need the coral reefs it is a really beautiful place for fish to enjoy and it is also their homes and everyone …

    Kenny Not rated yet
    This is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    VDP Not rated yet
    Amazing presentation!! Thank You for sharing this. C'mon guys, the fate of our future is on us and unless we realize this soon enough, we are all gonna …

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