This post provides a number of resources for understanding the importance of coral reefs, their current health status, and solutions.
Why are Coral Reefs Important?
A Barrier from Storms and Surge
Reefs play an important role in protecting the shoreline from storms and surge water. Barrier reefs, such as Florida’s, were named for the way they reduce waves and buffer the shores. Barrier reefs help stabilize mangroves and seagrass beds, which can easily be uprooted by large waves and h6 currents. Erosion prevention is particularly important in coastal areas such as the Florida Keys, where much of the shore is lined with residential homes and commercial buildings.
One fish, two fish
As the foundation for complex food webs, coral reefs support an incredible diversity of fish. Algae, soft coral, sponges and invertebrates create the base of this web. From small herbivorous fish to large predatory fish, all find food and protection on the reef.
Along side reef fish is an equally diverse array of marine crustaceans, reptiles and mammals. Everything from lobsters and octopus to sea turtles and dolphins depend on the reef for food, habitat and protection. Each animal plays an important role in the reef ecosystem, be it filtering water, consuming prolific algae or keeping a particular species under control. By supporting such a wide range of plants and animals, reefs are able to maintain balanced relationships between predators and prey and organisms in competition for the same resources. It is these balanced relationships that keep our marine ecosystems diverse and abundant with life.
Fish and other marine life have been a primary source of protein for as long as people have lived along the coast. From small scale artisanal fisheries to major commercial fleets, harvesting of marine life is a major economic force in all of the world’s oceans. Local fisheries, such as lobster, stone crab, snapper and grouper, all directly rely on the reef for spawning and habitat. Other fisheries, such as tuna, dolphin and other pelagic species, rely on the reef indirectly, though the bait fish that they consume.
Most corals and sponges are filter feeders, which means that they consume particulate matter suspended in the water column. This contributes to enhanced quality and clarity of our near shore waters.
Coral reefs are the ocean’s most diverse and complex ecosystems, supporting 25% of all marine life, including 800 species of reef-building corals and more than one million animal and plant species. They are close relatives of sea anemones and jellyfish, as each coral is a colony consisting of many individual sea anemone-like polyps that are all interconnected.
The goal is to identify the factors that define a pristine coral reef, and to consider how we can bring these ecological characteristics back to coral reefs that have been damaged. The academic opportunity is unparalleled, and the team is holding nothing back to learn the most possible in this unique trip.
What is Current Status of Coral Reefs?
Sadly a new study published in Science in January 2018, reviewed the health of 100 coral reefs from around the world from 1980 to 2016. The study found that coral reefs are under stress suffering greater and more frequent damage. In the 1980’s, coral reefs would experience stressful episodes every 25-30 years; however by 2016 the gap period reduced to 10-15 years between severe bleaching. Reefs need decades to heal thus the conclusion that the coral reefs do not have enough time to heal between stress periods. Read the indepth review at National Geographic below.
The rainforests of the sea, coral reefs play vital roles in the health of the ocean. But as a new study makes clear, humans’ influence on Earth’s climate is pushing them to the brink.
Recovering Coral Reefs
Planting corals back on the reefs can save the planet
Mote’s International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key, Florida, raises & studies more than 20 species of hard corals.
Scientists Create Hybrid Coral To Combat Reef Destruction
As coral reefs continue to die off from increasing ocean temperatures, scientists like Professor Madeleine van Oppen are working to find solutions to save these crucial ocean organisms. Van Oppen and her team are helping restore coral reefs by researching an array of solutions such as genetic manipulations and bacteria administration.