Water And Oceanography

Coral Reefs

Paul Oranika's image for:
"Coral Reefs"
Image by: 

What are Coral Reefs one may ask? Coral Reefs are simply the "rain forest of the sea" but as beautiful as they appear, not much research has been done to evaluate their general condition. They play a very important function in the world's eco-system. They are home and nursery for almost a million fish and other species, many that we rely on for food. Coral Reefs are some of the earth's most diverse living ecosystems; they are replete with new and undiscovered biomedical resources that we've only just begun to explore, they serve many vital functions for instance they are Important protection for coastal communities from storms, wave damage and erosion.

The United States has substantial coral reef holdings in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida, is the planet's third largest barrier reef system; other coral reef systems are found off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many other notable systems are found throughout the Pacific, including significant coral reefs located off of Hawaii. Recent declines in coral reef health, and disturbances caused by hurricanes, diseases, and predator outbreaks, have captured the attention of governments and the public worldwide." Scientists have only recently begun the extensive studies necessary to determine whether and why coral reefs are in decline, and to understand the direct and indirect effects of human activities on reefs and reef resources

Coral Reef Structure and Distribution

Coral reefs are very complex, biologically diverse marine ecosystem of the oceans. They generally occur near the shallow and clear waters particularly in the tropics. Some of them are so extensive that they cover the territorial waters of many different Countries. Among the largest reefs are; the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Barrier reef of Belize, and the Florida Reef tract of the United States.

Relationship With Other Ecosystems

Coral reefs are often found near land and shallow water; they exchange energy with mangrove forests and sea grass meadows. Their health depends on the quality of water and air around them. They are mostly threatened by the pollution, which migrate through the coastal currents, airflow patterns, rivers, and underground aquifers. Because coastal forests retains and absorbs nutrients including pollutants from the manufacturing industries, domestic water waste and agricultural fertilizer applications, these eventually make their way into the coral reef system.

Coral Reef and its Biological Diversity

Coral reefs are an important food source for thousands of marine animals as well as humans. It best describes the scientific process of "symbiosis" and an ideal habitat for fish, lobsters, crabs, and dolphins to name a few. Many marine and aquatic lives also breed their young ones in the coral reefs. The importance of Coral Reefs cannot be underestimated, it is estimated that they sustain over 25% of all the marine species and represent some of the most intriguing and least understood living systems in the world. According to David Mattingly of the CNN, "Coral reefs also support vibrant tourist economies, protect beaches and shorelines from erosion, act as nurseries for growing fish and provide a critical source of food and income for millions of people."

Other researchers say the world's coral reefs are worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year as a tourist attraction, and sources for new medicines. The Coral reef system is home to an estimated 1 million plant and animal species, and the human races have still a lot to learn about this magnificent and beautiful marine ecosystem. Despite the vital role of Coral reefs in the ecosystem, not much systematic effort has been made to accurately map them, and survey their conditions, and human interaction remains the sole factor responsible for the degradation and destruction of the coral reefs. There are an estimated 600,000 square kilometers of Coral reefs, (372,000 square miles) in the world, and of this figure, according to published reports, 10 percent have already been damaged, another 30 percent are projected to be destroyed in the near future.

U.S. Coral Reef System

The U.S. Coral reef system covers about 6,500 square miles. Most of them are located in the Islands of the western pacific, coastal waters of Florida and Texas, and the Islands in the Caribbean. A task force recently revealed that the America Samoa's Coral Reefs are over fished. In a joint study, by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources and the Fagatele National Marine Sanctuary and the national park of American Samoa, they concluded that giant clams and parrot fish are over fished, as well as surgeonfish. But the study also blamed the recent Hurricanes in1990, and in 1992 for the troubles of the Samoa's reef system in their recommendations they proposed: Marine protected region to allow fish to recover; and to implement community-based fisheries management.
Other factors responsible for the degradation of the Coral reef system include global warming, according to Carl Safina of the National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program. Some experts are more pessimistic about the survival chances of Coral reefs unless drastic measures are adopted; they think that 70% of all the coral reefs in the world would be gone by the year 2050. James Baker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that unless something is done now, we may loose 30% of all the coral reefs in the next 10 to 20 years. n the Florida Bay, it was disclosed that sea grass mortality was bad, and that mangroves were dying at an alarming rate. Part of the blame was laid on freshwater management practices. Recreational fishing and commercial fishing were also mentioned because they are the major tourist attraction in the area.

Some efforts are being made to address this problem but whether they succeed or not depends on the urgency and magnitude of the protection strategies employed. In a meeting in Maui, Hawaii, Robert Mallett announced series of plans to save the U.S Coral reef system and in 1998 at the National Oceanic Conference in Monterey, Calif., a number of actions were discussed to address the problem, they include: a comprehensive effort to map and assess the U.S. Coral reefs; establish a network of Coral reef protected areas; implement a coral reef monitoring program; build emergency response capabilities and; strengthen local and regional efforts.

Enforcement and implementation of these measures began in the year 2001 and beyond. It remains to be seen whether these efforts would go far enough to address the urgency, which this matter requires. Policy makers should appropriate enough resources to address such problem. These are bold measures but unless the are aggressively implemented, the global Coral Reef system may be destroyed in the years to come, this is the reason why environmental pollution should be taken more seriously, the Kyoto conference held in Japan a few years ago was a right step and hopefully the leaders of the industrialized countries, who are also responsible for over two-thirds of the global industrial pollution would live up to their commitments to reduce industrial emissions.

More about this author: Paul Oranika

From Around the Web