One of my favorite occasions to celebrate is World Reef Awareness Day that falls on June 1st. Coral reefs provide many benefits - and one of them is to provide a hiding spot for various marine organisms that helps protect these sometimes endangered species from predators. Factually, coral reefs are home to 25 % of all oceanic creatures around the world!
Protecting fish and other consumable sea creatures also benefit humans. Allowing these creatures to reach maturity and stay away from capture help provide food security for the surrounding region. Additionally, increasing revenue from tourism is a given. The colorful structures and various inhabitants around the coral reef make beautiful scenery - perfect for tourism. Tourists come from near and far to snorkel or dive to enjoy the view. Some come to fish because there is plenty of them in the area. The attractiveness of the unique, colorful marine structure that allows the place to be a natural tourist attraction also provides the locals more job opportunities.
The vital part is that coral reefs are natural wave-stoppers, the equivalent of a natural tetrapod – but free of charge, courtesy of mother nature. The rows of corals make a perfect shoreline protector that helps prevent damage when a storm strikes. According to Office for Coastal Management, protection from erosions is more secure in coral reef-lined coastlines.
With that said, to make a comparison, a coral reef is probably as important as the rainforest on solid ground. According to the Smithsonian, our largest coral reef on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef has started growing circa 20,000 years ago. So it pretty much guaranteed long-lasting protection for coastlines in Australia!
What is Exactly a Coral Reef?
Colonies of coral polyps, a kind of spineless marine animal, form underwater structures that we call corals. When an enormous number of corals group together, they become coral reefs. The use of seawater limestone explains their hardened bodies. Polyps use limestone to create a skeleton-like structure to protect their vulnerable bodies.
So long as no natural disasters or humans disrupt their habitat, corals in the tropical seas are low maintenance. These animals can live in oceans that lack nutrients. Coral polyps can sustain themselves on mere sunlight, plankton, and some algae, allowing them to repair poor reef health. In the case of algae, they benefit from corals just as much. Corals give shelter that helps zooxanthellae algae to photosynthesize. On the other side of the coin, algae provide nutrients and coloring to the corals. Simply put, they help each other to survive.
And to some degree, algae help the corals to be fashion icons of the sea.
How are they in danger?
In 2016, El Nino, a natural phenomenon where the temperature in the Pacific Ocean rises, occurred. It crudely left us with only two-thirds of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia of its original number. So while some natural threats are beyond our control, most dangers come from humans.
In 1980, for the first time, the Great Barrier Reef started bleaching. Bleaching happens when algae, which provide supplements to corals, leave due to stress. Stress for algae does not mean they have a midlife crisis of a sort. Instead, it indicates that pollution or the sea temperature has become too intense for the algae to stay in the corals. Bleaching will not cause corals to die. However, similar to not getting vaccinated will make us prone to COVID - the absence of algae in corals will make them susceptible to diseases. Hence, make it easier for them to die off.
Human activities threaten 85% of reefs in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Island, and Timor-Leste. Here is why we cannot exactly be surprised by it.
Globally, we can imagine illegal dumping of hazardous and plastic waste into the sea increase the chance of algae on coral reefs become stressed out. Even simply using single-use plastic in-land can add marine debris when these wastes get carried by wind or wastewater to the sea. Top it off with overfishing and unsustainable fishing method like fish bombing. These horrible practices contribute to the indirect and direct destruction of our reefs.
Our unsustainable, non-eco-friendly actions on land, like burning fossil fuels, also threaten the survivability of coral reefs. Climate-change triggering actions cause the temperature to change drastically and increase Carbon dioxide production on the planet. The climate change effects that we encounter on dry land also affect marine biota. Sea temperatures soar extremely while the excess production of CO2 quickens to the ocean acidification process, triggering the bleaching process for coral reefs.
We Can Help!
For starters, a petition to local companies that dump hazardous litter in waterways better their waste management. Although corals can get better after they bleached, this process takes many years. During the wait, the reef's immunities to sickness are reduced and increase the risk of exposing them to their death. Ironic, remembering if taken care of properly, some coral species can live up to 4,000 years.
Reducing single-use plastic consumption is necessary. In 2010, 3% of the global plastic consumption out of the 275 million tonnes that the world produced entered the ocean. Besides the threat of having plastics choking or causing death to marine life, plastic debris above coral reef disallows algae to photosynthesize because of their lack of exposure to sunlight. To tackle this issue, you can also take action with your local beach clean-up or start one yourself. In addition, helping to educate others on the importance of the reef will spread awareness that there is life to care for beyond the environmental activism on dry land.
To learn more about how to observe World Reef Awareness day, National Today has some great recommendations!