Coral Reefs, known as the “rainforests of the sea”, are among the most productive and bio-diverse ecosystems on our planet. They do not occupy more than one percent of the floor of the ocean, and yet are home to at least a quarter of the entire marine population, including various species of reptiles, bacteria, fungi, crustaceans, and 4000 or more varieties of fish.
Three basic types of coral reefs:
- Fringing Reef
- Barrier Reef
- Atoll Reef
Where can we find coral reefs?
Coral reefs are situated in tropical oceans of the earth that are near the equator. The Great Barrier Reef, located in Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef. The second biggest coral reef is in Central America’s Belize. Reefs are also present in the Red Sea, Hawaii, and other regions in tropical oceans.
How valuable are corals?
Healthy corals are not just biologically diverse but also economically valuable resources of the earth. Coral ecosystems provide food to millions of organisms (including humans), offer spawning grounds and habitat to fish species, protect coastlines from erosion and storms, and also provide livelihood to locals from recreation, tourism, and fishing.
Gifts of coral reefs to mankind:
- Biodiversity- Coral reefs are important nursery, spawning, feeding and breeding grounds for multiple organisms. Speaking of biodiversity, the rich variety of living organisms residing on a coral reef is actually greater than the diversity of species inhabiting shallow water ecosystems. Yet corals do not occupy even one percent of the planet’s ocean floor. They support at least 800 coral species and 4000 exotic species of fish.
- Fisheries- More than one billion people from all over the world consume fish that live and grow on coral reefs. There are also many species of fish that reside far away from corals but derive food from them. Fifty percent of America’s federally handled fisheries rely on coral reefs and its related habitats to a great extent. The yearly commercial value of fisheries in US that come from coral reefs reaches up to $100 million. Coral reefs fisheries situated in South East Asia also generate $2.4 billion every year.
- Coastal protection- Coral reefs that are healthy have complex structures and rough surfaces that dissipate the force of waves. This gives protection to the shorelines from waves, storms, and ocean currents, preventing loss of life, erosion and major damages to property. So, coastlines that receive protection from reefs are stable and they are also a source of rich sand in the beaches.
- Medicine- Many species that inhabit coral reefs produce specific chemical compounds necessary for attack or defense, particularly the stationary or slow-moving species such as sponges and nudibranchs. So, creatures that are found in the coral ecosystems are valuable sources of novel medicines being discovered to ease and induce labor, treat arthritis, cancer, ulcers, heart diseases, asthma, bacterial infections, viruses and several other ailments. Corals are also a source of cosmetics, enzymes and nutritional supplements. In the years to come, more medicines will be developed from coral reefs if we can succeed in protecting and preserving them.
- Recreation and tourism- Millions of snorkelers and scuba divers visit the coral reefs every year to enjoy a rich sea life. Beaches that are protected by coral reefs are more crowded than the ones that are not. So, local economies earn billions of dollars from these visitors who participate in fishing trips and diving tours as well as facilitate the businesses, restaurants and hotels located nearby.
Losing Coral Reefs: A Potential Threat
According to a report published by World Resource Institute, named ‘Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the coral reefs of the world are at great risks from global and local stresses. About a quarter of these valuable reefs has been ruined beyond repair. Overfishing along with harmful fishing techniques like usage of cyanide and explosives and deep water trawling are among the most destructive threats to the coral reefs.Pollution from the land, such as releases from several power plants, trash, oil spills and pathogens also endanger the existence of corals. Even plastic pollution is responsible for killing corals. If humans do not take major steps to protect the coral reefs, 90 percent of them will be damaged in the next ten years.