Why the World Needs Coral Reef Restoration
Climate change is an issue on the forefront of most people’s minds. Whether it’s real, a hoax, humanity’s fault, a natural cycle of the Earth, or not is dividing people instead of bringing people together to deal with the underlying cause and the plants/animals that are at risk of extinction. Climate change or not, there is damage being done to this planet on land and in our oceans and we need to do something about it.
One of the species at risk at this time is coral reefs. Numbers don’t lie, and right now they are showing that 25% of coral reefs are either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.
Facts about coral reefs
What are coral reefs and why are they so important? Although they may look like plants, coral reefs are actually living animals that are essential to the survival of the planet. In fact, they are the largest biological structures on Earth. They also support 25% of all known marine species.
Their colorful and bright exterior hides many complex processes that build and maintain one of the most important ecosystems in our oceans, providing homes and safe breeding grounds for over 4000 species of fish.
Coral reefs also help promote better water quality by acting as a filter and trapping debris and making the surrounding environment cleaner.
As giant living, breathing organisms, they also play an important role in managing the earth’s carbon dioxide levels.
When coral reefs experience stress caused by changes in environmental conditions, such as warming water temperature, overexposure to sunlight, extremely low tides, or pollution runoff, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching.
The good news is that coral can survive bleaching and restore their health back to normal. However, with rising ocean temperatures many coral reefs are unable to recover, which causes them to die.
In 2016 to 2017, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia experienced “back to back marine heat waves”, or periods of elevated ocean temperatures that resulted in a mass bleaching. One-third of the 1,429 mile long coral reef died.
Large scale coral bleaching used to occur once every 27 years, but due to global warming it currently occurs once every six years. If global warming continues to rise as it has been, by 2030 we could see large scale bleachings once every two years.
How We Can Help
Fortunately, there are good humans out there who are willing to put in the work in an attempt to recover coral reefs around the world. Organizations such as Coralive.org and the Future Reefs Program are working tirelessly researching how local stressors and climate change impact coral reefs, long-term environmental monitoring, and creating livelihood solutions for coastal communities.
They have also begun experimenting with coral transplantation in an attempt to recover and regrow areas of damaged coral reef. This is where they take a part of the coral reef that survived the bleaching and grow them on mesh platforms on a sandy lagoon adjacent to the coral reef.
The question that the research is trying to answer is whether or not coral transplantation will speed up the recovery process of recovery rather than having to rely on the natural reproduction to replace the parts of the reef that died. The success or failure of the project will remain unknown until another heat wave arrives.
Due to global warming, that’s due to happen sooner, rather than later.
Coral reefs are much more than beautiful, mystifying, and brightly colored animals that humans are fascinated by. They represent the homes of millions of sea creatures and the balance of life on our planet. Saving coral reefs has never been more important than it is right now.