I've always had a deep connection to the ocean. Swimming over a coral reef is an awe-inspiring experience and I highly recommend visiting one if you haven't had the opportunity yet. Sadly though, coral reefs are in significant decline and are in desperate need of our help. Here's the top 5 effects of coral reef destruction on the environment and why we should all be worried about losing the ocean's most valuable asset.
1. A Barren Ocean.
If the coral reefs die, the oceans will become far more barren. Coral reefs are home to around 25% of all species found in the ocean and provide shelter to millions (probably billions) of fish and invertebrates. FYI - invertebrates include a multitude of animals such as snails, crabs, clams, starfish, urchins, oysters, and more. Reef building corals provide shelter from predators for these small animals that are the basis of the ocean food chain.
If we lose reefs, the entire ocean food chain may be disrupted. Not only will invertebrates experience significant habitat loss, the thousands of species of small fish that occupy coral reefs may no longer have a home. Where will these fish hide from the larger predatory animals on the reef?
A Dead Coral Reef
Versus A Healthy Coral Reef
2. Many People Will Experience Devastating Food Shortages
Millions of people are dependent on the ocean as their food source everyday. If you noticed in the photos above, there were no fish on the dead coral reef. When the corals that provide food and homes to fish die, the fish go elsewhere. Some estimates show that 500 million people rely on coral reefs daily, many of these in relatively impoverished countries. What happens when their biggest source of food becomes scarce?
Fishing Villages Rely on Healthy Reefs
3. Shoreline Destruction
Reefs protect the shorelines of many hurricane prone areas. Over time, hard corals grow up from the seafloor creating a web of interconnected skeletons locked together creating a barrier that keeps large waves and storm surge from making landfall. It is estimated that coral reefs absorb almost 97% of wave energy.
If these corals die, we will lose our most important shoreline protection (especially in tropical areas) enabling waves and storm surge to unleash their full force on beaches and shorelines around the world. The loss of coral reefs will accelerate beach erosion therefore tropical systems will take a much larger toll when they make landfall.
The photo below is a perfect example of how reefs protect shorelines. Without barrier reefs like the one pictured below, thousands of low lying island nations may be lost.
Reefs Act as a Natural Barrier
4. Loss of Biodiversity
Like I mentioned before reefs are home to thousands of different species, including some we may not have even discovered yet. Corals are complex organisms and there is a significant amount we can learn still from them. Perhaps even the cures to various diseases could be found on the reefs. If the reefs die, we will lose out on potential knowledge and scientific discoveries from these unique animals and ecosystems.
A Diverse Reef Contains Thousands of Species
5. Millions of jobs will be lost.
Not only do coral reefs provide food to millions of people daily, many people and businesses rely on the reef to make ends meet. If the reefs die, many jobs will be lost - especially those that work the tourism industry such as SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, and more.
Coral Reefs Provide Millions of Jobs
Now that we know the effects of coral reef destruction on the environment, how can we fix it?
Education is critical. Most people are completely unaware of the plight of our global reefs and how important they are to life on earth - both on land and under the sea. Show your support for the reef and spread awareness with our Save the Reef Tee!
Be sure to use reef friendly sunscreen while swimming near coral reefs. Click here to check out some reef friendly sunscreens on Amazon. Most sunscreens are not reef safe because they contain harmful chemicals and metals that wash off into the ocean and kill corals.
Never touch a living coral. Many corals grow just a few inches per year and are extremely fragile so take extra caution not to bump or touch them as they break easily.
Reduce your carbon emissions and energy usage as much as possible. Reefs are dying off largely in part to ocean warming and acidification, both of which are the result of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the planet warms, the oceans absorb an estimated 50% of the extra trapped heat in our atmosphere. This puts severe stress on corals as ocean temperatures rise too quickly for corals to adapt. This is the main cause of coral bleaching.
Avoid single use plastics. Although plastics don't impact the reefs on as large of scale as ocean warming, they wreak havoc on marine environments as marine life ingests and gets caught in our plastic trash.
Even though reefs around the world continue to struggle, there is still hope. If we work together to raise awareness and change our behaviors, we can help coral reefs rebuild back to their former glory. Please share with others the effects of coral reef destruction on the environment and why saving them should be top priority!
Also, don't forget to check out our coral reef tee to help us raise awareness!