Scientists believe that 10% of the coral reefs from around the world have died and 75% of the world’s remaining coral reefs are in danger of being destroyed.
Between the physical damage caused by boat anchors, dredging, quarrying, pollution, overfishing, and coral harvesting, marine biologists and environmentalists alike have a growing concern that the planet may one day lose our coral reefs.
The coral reefs play a crucial role in the daily lives of not only sea creatures, but those who live on land as well.
Why Are Coral Reefs Important? (10 Reasons)
The coral reefs have a massive effect on how the planet is able to operate.
Without the coral reefs, the planet will lose many underwater species and many of those species that eat the inhabitants of the coral reefs.
There would be a variety of species that would have nowhere to call home and nowhere to keep them safe from larger predators.
The sea creatures that are known to eat the coral would also die without this vital food source.
The coral reefs aren’t just important to sea creatures, but to humans and creatures that live on land as well.
These underrecognized natural wonders help filter the ocean’s water and reduce the power of the waves that hit the nearby shores.
Losing the coral reefs underwater would be like losing all the rainforests around the world.
Carbon dioxide levels would greatly increase and could potentially kill all sea life because the change would be too sudden for their bodies to handle.
For unspoken generations, the coral reefs have been providing safety and food for humanity.
These reefs have served as common fishing spots and have helped form cities around their beautiful display, but they need humanity’s help to stay around for future generations to see.
Unless the majority of humanity becomes concerned with the state of the coral reefs, completely losing them is no longer a case of if but rather when.
Once the coral reefs are gone, there is no way to properly recreate what had been in the ocean for thousands of years.
The sooner more people become proactive about protecting the coral reefs, we will be able to save more wildlife and see fewer endangered species become extinct.
1. Home To Many Endangered Species
Coral reefs are home to a long list of endangered species, and no coral reef has more endangered species than the Great Barrier Reef.
Without their incredibly unique, underwater environment, many species would lose the security and food source that they rely on to survive.
You can find a large variety of endangered sea animals at the Great Barrier Reef, and they aren’t limited to just fish.
One of the most endangered species to call the Reef home is the saltwater crocodile, with only 200,000 to 300,000 left on the entire planet.
The loggerhead turtle, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, and leatherback turtle populations have all been affected by the overfishing that takes place at the Great Barrier Reef and climate change.
Due to the rising water levels, many turtles are losing their eggs to the waves that flood their nests.
The dugong also calls the Great Barrier Reef home, but there are only 10,000 left in the wild.
These gentle giants have been attacked by poachers, pollution, dredging, and coastal development.
The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 360 species of coral, with 22 species being endangered by climate change.
During a 2016 heat wave, the Reef took massive damage and ⅔ of the Reef was cooked alive.
After the heat wave, the makeup of the Great Barrier Reef had been completely disfigured and brought many species to the brink of extinction.
Although the Reef has been around for more than 150 million years, climate change is bringing the reefs around the world to their knees.
2. Reduce The Power Of Waves
Coral reefs around the world have been saving more than 100 million people who live in coastal towns, but it is difficult to get humanity to help the coral reefs in a similar fashion.
If we lose our coral reefs, we will lose the protection that they offer, and millions of people will lose their homes.
On average, a coral reef will reduce the energy of a wave by 97% alongside other safety measures.
Independently, a reef is capable of reducing the wave energy by an average of 86%.
When nearly 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coastline, we need to put more attention on how rising water levels and increasing wave energy is going to affect them.
Footage of entire communities being swept away and demolished by the ocean has appeared on newsreels vastly too often for people not to see what is happening to the planet around them.
The first increase seen in tropical cyclones was during the 1970s when the world’s Gross Domestic Product saw a 3.6% increase.
Another increase was experienced during the 2000s, which saw tropical cyclones increase by 4.3%.
With fewer reefs to protect against more frequent storms, coastal communities are the ones dealing with the strongest consequences.
Governments are now having to put billions of dollars towards more safety measures and adaptive construction projects.
3. The Underwater Nursery Of Many Species
Many aquatic species use coral reefs as a safe place to produce their offspring and raise them.
With the protection that coral provides against predators and strong currents, the coral reefs serve as a trusted nursery for young aquatic life.
Another feature of coral reefs that makes them excellent nurseries is how easily accessible food is.
Whether the species is looking for something more carnivorous or plant-based, coral reefs provide a diverse ecosystem of everything a young sea creature needs.
If you ever go diving in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf’s coral reefs are home to a variety of young fish that you won’t see anywhere else like the Goliath Grouper and Marbled Grouper.
When the fish are young, they hide between the coral and seagrass.
As these fish get older, they go off to explore different parts of the Gulf or can be seen patrolling the area for predators.
What makes the coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico unique is that it is one of the few coral reefs that still has a healthy combination of younger and older fish.
Many of the coral reefs in the Caribbean have lost their higher-level predatory fish and are only used as nurseries for juvenile fish.
With many of the coral reefs around the world dying or getting destroyed, there isn’t much space for bigger fish.
4. Acting As An Oceanwide Filtration System
Coral reefs are an important part of keeping our oceans clean and their ecosystems balanced.
They complete this task simply by eating, which requires the coral to filter ocean water for plankton and organic matter.
Without the coral reefs, our oceans would be overpopulated with plankton and filled with particles of dead fish.
Luckily, what may be trash to other sea creatures is a treasure to all 1,500 species of coral found around the world.
Coral can clean the ocean without even having to move thanks to their simple bodies.
The inner and outer layer of coral creates a large space in between the layers called the gastrovascular cavity.
This is where all the organic matter and plankton are digested.
Although coral does most of the ocean cleaning itself, it does get a little help from the zooxanthellae that attach themselves to the coral for safety.
The zooxanthellae help give coral the nutrients that it needs to survive by transferring photosynthetically derived metabolites.
The zooxanthellae also give coral the sugars and amino acids that it needs to break down food and function.
This allows the coral to have the energy to filter water using their tentacles.
Without the coral and zooxanthellae found in every coral reef, the local ecosystem would be oversaturated with bottom-level prey like plankton and wouldn’t be as clear to see through due to all the organic matter floating in the water.
5. Controls Ocean Carbon Dioxide
Not only are coral and zooxanthellae cleaning up the ocean water, but they are also helping control the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean.
Just as trees, humans, and other land creatures, coral and zooxanthellae work together to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Coral reefs are like the rainforest of the sea because of all the oxygen that zooxanthellae create from the carbon dioxide.
Using the carbon dioxide that is found in the ocean, zooxanthellae convert into carbohydrates for both the zooxanthellae and the coral polyps.
Eventually, the coral will create limestone from all the carbon, and the limestone will remain at the bottom of the ocean.
Thanks to the carbohydrates that the zooxanthellae create, they have the energy to photosynthesize and create oxygen for the local sea creatures and the coral it is attached to.
Although the coral reefs provide a place to create plenty of oxygen from the carbon dioxide, human interference has made the coral and zooxanthellae’s job much more difficult.
A large number of daily human activities are increasing the amount of greenhouse gas, such as large-scale agriculture, industrialization, land-use change, and even things like using air conditioning and refrigeration.
If we continue to overwhelm the coral reefs with the amount of carbon dioxide that is sinking into the ocean, we will kill the coral reefs, and the carbon dioxide levels in the oceans will become uncontrollable.
This would kill most, if not all, sea creatures.
6. Important Fishing Locations
Before fishing became an industry, people from coastal towns relied on the food source that coral reefs provide.
Not only do coral reefs have a large variety of fish, but there’s also just as much quantity of fish as there is variety.
When fishing became an industry, fishermen were pulling in as many fish as they could to make the money they needed to survive.
The demand for fish only grew as many industries began serving international consumers, which has led to the overfishing of coral reefs.
Although coral reefs once served as a reliable food source for humans and sea creatures, they are now being overfished to the point of habitat destruction.
Coral reefs have given humanity so much, and yet humanity just wants to take even more from them during their time of need.
Even the most sustainable fishing operations can have a massive effect on the wellbeing of their local coral reefs.
However, the fishing industry can’t completely stop in these areas because the locals survive on the food and work they provide.
Instead, many scientists are trying to work alongside fishing communities to better understand how to help them and the coral reef at the same time.
Some of the practices that are being taught to fishing communities include being mindful of where your anchor is dropping or avoiding certain fish with smaller populations.
At this point, scientists are simply trying to slow down the rate at which the fishing industry is hurting the coral reefs.
Without the coral reefs, many fishermen or fishing companies would lose their supply of fish.
7. Tourism Pays For Families All Over The World
Coral reefs around the world don’t just provide income for the fishing industry, they also make billions of dollars as tourist attractions.
All the coral reefs in the world make a collective $36 billion for tourism companies.
More than 70 million trips are made each year to see one of the coral reefs around the world, from eager marine biologists to fascinated families.
When these people are coming to see the local reefs, they are providing money for the local hotels, restaurants, shops, diving companies, and a variety of other businesses.
In areas where poverty levels are higher than the number of jobs available, responsible tourism is crucial.
Responsible tourism includes supporting small, locally-owned businesses, being mindful of the culture, and keeping whatever areas you visit clean.
Most tourism that comes from coral reefs is located in Australia and the Bahamas.
Countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama all make millions of dollars from coral reef tourism alone.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt also see millions of dollars’ worth of tourism thanks to their coral reefs.
Coral reefs serve as the poster children for nature-born tourism, and countless jobs would be lost if there weren’t coral reefs to see anymore.
8. Creating Cities Around The Natural Wonders
Thanks to the food and job support that the coral reefs have provided, many cities have been formed around the reefs.
One country that combined its city planning with its citizens’ desire to enjoy all the local coral reefs is Australia.
Multiple Australian cities have been placed near coral reefs, including Sydney, Cairns, Port Douglas, Mackay, Townsville, and Rockhampton. Each coastal city sees incredible amounts of tourism just to see the coral reefs.
Port Douglas is north of the Great Barrier Reef and offers tourists multiple locations to see coral reefs, such as the Low Isles.
These islands are teeming with coral and other rare forms of ocean life.
From Port Douglas, you can also quickly get to Heron Island.
The Great Barrier Reef surrounds this island, and it’s one of the closest places that you can spend a night near the Great Barrier Reef.
While Port Douglas may have been located towards the northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville is located right in the middle of the massive coral reef.
Townsville also has a set of islands that tourists can visit to get a better look at the local wildlife, including Orpheus Island, Great Palm Island, and Magnetic Island.
These cities may have never been as successful without the support coming from the Great Barrier Reef.
Cities all over the world rely on the coral reefs to give tourists something worth visiting.
9. How The Coral Reefs Are Used In Medicine
Coral reefs from around the world have been advancing scientific studies and developments in the pharmaceutical world for decades.
Coral has been used to help create medications to fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and a variety of infections.
Researchers were first drawn to the idea of using coral in medications when they noticed that the plants and animals living in the coral reefs were shown to have developed rare chemical compounds that protected them from predators, diseases, and the threat of excessive growth of competing organisms.
However, this research has been nearly brought to a halt because of the rapidly declining populations of coral.
Researchers don’t want to take more coral for medicinal use if it means that they will completely deplete their supply shortly after popularizing any of the medications they’re working on.
Although many researchers desperately want to help humanity fight diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis, they don’t see medicines using coral advancing anytime soon.
Studies show that we’ll lose 60% of the world’s wild coral population by 2030 due to water pollution, destructive fishing methods, overfishing, climate change, and other harmful human activities.
At this point, researchers are begging governments with local coral reefs to consider how they plan city expansions and how they plan to combat water pollution coming from daily human activity.
Saving the reefs means that you will also be saving all those who suffer from a variety of painful and lethal diseases.
10. Once They’re Gone, They’re Gone Forever
Once the coral reefs are gone, there will be no way to return the ocean to its original state.
This will cause massive changes in the lives of those who live above the water as well.
Without the coral reefs, the tides would get strong enough to destroy the cities that built their everyday lives around the existence and beauty of the coral reefs.
All the carbon dioxide that is created on the planet would have fewer places to go, and oceans would have a lethal level of carbon dioxide in them that would kill sea and land creatures.
About 25% of marine life would be completely displaced, even if they could manage to handle the change in carbon dioxide levels.
Without the local fish, billions of people would lose their jobs and nearby cities would lose millions of dollars in revenue.
Even the way that ocean water feels would change if the coral reefs all died.
The waters would become slimy with algae and the microbial life that lives in limestone would burst out into the water.
Although things aren’t looking good for the coral reefs around the world, there is still time to change things.
By eliminating a majority of the threats that coral is constantly under, the coral reefs would be able to heal and return to semi-normal levels.