It's simple: the (coral) reefs are in trouble. Marine scientists lately have taken a hard look at the world's coral reefs, and they say 25 percent are already destroyed, and 70 percent could be gone just 40 years from now unless we change our ways.
Who cares if the corals go the way of the dodo? You should. Science has progressed to the point where we can understand this fact: We can't live without the coral reefs.
Why people need the Coral Reefs
Coral reef zones are home to one quarter of all marine plants and animals: Nearly a million species of marine and plant life live on reefs or use them as nurseries to protect their young. Collapse could mean famine.
Natural harbors that take millennia to build, coral reefs provide people with living sea walls against tides, storm surges, and hurricanes.
Medicine and other resources.
Like the tropical rainforests, coral reefs are a center of extreme biodiversity, a great reservoir of intriguing DNA we've hardly begun to explore and natural compounds we don't yet understand.
Fun and profit.
Coral reefs are one big underwater amusement park for snorkelers and divers, a searingly colorful undersea world of Cousteauian delights-which drives a tourist industry worth tens of billions of dollars, in many cases propping up the economies of entire nations.
How we destroy the Coral Reefs
In areas blessed with an abundant human population, the collapse of the world's fisheries is a familiar story, and tropical regions are just another chapter.
In depleted fisheries, people resort to desperate tactics to catch the fish that remain-one of those is dynamite. The explosions send dead fish to the surface and destroy living reefs; they can be heard from the Philippines to Kenya to the Caribbean.
Organic wastes from human cities flood to the sea, bringing an overload of nutrients; algae take over the reefs, blotting out the sunlight corals need to live. It's called eutrophication and it's a major problem, especially in the Caribbean and Central America, where just 10 percent of sewage is properly treated before it's dumped in the sea.
More eutrophication. Carried to the sea by rivers and streams, chemical fertilizers act much like sewage, overloading reef areas with nutrients for algae, choking the corals.
Oil and industrial pollution.
Petrochemicals and heavy metals are a persistent threat to all marine life in coral reef zones.
Clumsy or just uninformed, tourists crush, scrape, gouge, and break off fragile corals with their hands, their scuba fins, and their ship anchors.
People excavate coral reefs for their limestone and sand, for use in building materials, resort hotel beaches, tourist souvenirs, and even snake-oil medicines.
Abuse adds up, and reefs that aren't killed directly by people may be getting sick anyway from the accumulated stresses. Recent years have seen epidemics of many coral diseases and the discovery of several new ones previously unknown to science. Coral bleaching, a deadly ailment on the rise, is associated with higher water temperatures-but
even that can be attributed to humankind if global warming models are correct. And the diseases seem to be getting meaner: In April, scientists reported in the journal Nature that a new species of coral-bleaching and -killing bacteria was wiping out reefs in two or three days, rather than the weeks or months it took previously.
Coral bleaching aside, global warming will cause some obvious problems for corals, like decreased ocean salinity and rising mean ocean depth. Then there are the less obvious problems: Australian scientists warned in March 1998 that increasing CO2 in the earth's atmosphere was raising the acidity of surface water in the
world's oceans, making it harder for corals to form the (basic) limestone skeletons that make up the reefs.
The good news is it’s not too late. If we take action now, we can prevent the death of the most biologically diverse marine eco-system on earth.
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