It is estimated that 60 percent of the world’s reefs have already been seriously damaged by man, many irreversibly so. The causes are numerous and include:
•fishing using cyanide, dynamite and dragnets
•the collection of fish and other marine life for the aquarium trade
•air and water pollution
•irresponsible trash disposal
Combined with increasing ocean temperatures due to El Nino events, climate change and global warming, the percentage increases to a massive 75 percent.
Why does it matter?
The world’s coral reefs provide habitats for 25 percent of all marine species, including commercially important ones. The loss of these commercially important species would have a devastating effect on the people who rely on them for their livelihoods. It would also have an enormous negative impact on the many countries which rely on fishing to drive their economies.
Reefs draw millions and millions of tourists each year. The money earned from reef tourism is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of US dollars annually. This estimate includes not only income earned from obvious reef activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving but from general sightseeing, all kinds of sports activities, accommodations, food and drink, the buying of souvenirs and other goods, transportation, and boating, to name a few.
Like the rain forests, the world’s coral reefs hold promise for cures for disease and for products that will improve the health and lives of man. AZT, which effectively slows the spread of the HIV virus and which is a compound generated by a Caribbean reef sponge, is one example.
Coral reefs act as a natural barrier to protect coastlines and coastal populations from the effects of typhoons, hurricanes, tides, tidal surges, and tsunamis.
The world’s oceans and coral reefs absorb a great deal of the carbon dioxide that man spews into the atmosphere each day. Some would argue that if the reefs died, this absorption would be diminished and could result in an increase in global warming.
What can the governments of the world do to protect the reefs?
One obvious answer is to curb man’s influence on global warming. It has been reported that a temperature increase of just 1-2 C can trigger coral bleaching which will eventually lead to coral death if left unchecked.
Reduce ocean acidification which is a byproduct of the oceans’ absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, much of which comes from air pollution. Ocean acidification makes it difficult for corals to build their hard skeletons.
Stop dumping trash and other man-made debris, especially plastics and other non-biodegradable products, into the oceans.
Enforce the use of reef-friendly fishing methods and have tight controls over the species of fish which can be caught as well as the tonnage which can be harvested.
Eliminate destructive fishing practices such as the use of cyanide, dynamite and dragnets.
What can we as individuals do to help?
We, as individuals, can help, too. When snorkeling or scuba diving, respect the reefs and don’t touch them. Don’t walk on them. Don’t sit on them. Don’t lie down on them to take a selfie. You may laugh but as a scuba diver, I have seen this over and over again. It’s appalling.
Don’t litter. Dispose of trash responsibly. Find a rubbish bin or take the trash home with you and throw it away there.
Use less electricity to help cut down on the use of fossil fuels.
Take energy-efficient public or private transportation. Car pool. Walk or ride a bicycle instead of driving a fossil fuel-powered car or motorcycle.
Help spread the word.
Together we can save the reefs.