Over the last century, coral reefs across the planet have become less and less healthy. Impacted by things such as over-fishing, not to mention climate change and many others, reefs are at risk dying, and even completely disappearing off the face of the planet. Currently, More than two thirds of the coral reefs worldwide are seriously at risk, with one third being beyond repair already, due to impact of modern society, such as over-fishing, bottom trawling, global warming, and man-made disasters such as oil spills.
Why It Matters to Me
I was born in Virginia and lived along the coast of Maine for a total of seven years. While growing up I was constantly swimming, snorkeling and fishing in the beaches close to my home. As my brother and I got older, he became interested in scuba diving and I, being the younger brother, followed suit. Throughout middle school and high school I travelled across the planet, diving in places such as Costa Rica, Belize, and the Solomon Islands. While in Costa Rica a few years ago, our experienced instructor told us that over the twenty years he has been working as a dive master, the reefs there have become less and less healthy.
Coral bleaching process and affects of water temperature
Effects of Global Warming On Reefs
Coral health is greatly dependent on the average water temperature. Although we love the warmer temperatures and it makes swimming and diving much nicer, it is the opposite for the reefs that we travel to visit. Recently, in only one year, nearly "16% of the world's coral reefs were wiped out," and "a sea temperature change of a mere one degrees Celsius would yield similar losses" (Global Warming and Coral Reefs, www.nwf.org). Additionally, as cars and other forms of transportation release more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the water, coral reefs do not only become unhealthier, but also weaker and more susceptible to storm damage. Coral growth rates vary upon the type and size of the coral. On average, massive coral grows between 0.3 to 2 centimeters per year, while branching coral can grow closer to 10 centimeters a year. This small rate of development means that it can take almost 10,000 years for a reef to form, and even longer depending on the size of the reef.
Why are Reefs Important for the Ecosystem?
Coral reefs have many important functions. Due to how many species reefs support, more per area unit than any other ocean environment, reefs are much too valuable to lose. Many fish species only live in coral reefs, and "scientists estimate that there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs" (Importance of Coral Reefs, http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/). Not only do reefs create diverse ecosystems for fish and plant life, but they also offer stability and protection for the coastline they are a part of. Reefs can protect beaches and the shoreline from large waves and tropical storms, provide "nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains," and clear excess nitrogen and carbon from the surrounding water (Functions of Coral Reefs, http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/). Additionally, many medicines are looking at the ability of using animals and plants from the reef to help cure diseases.