Coral Bust, Algal Bloom
Coral reefs are often described as the rainforests of the sea. Corals create habits for a myriad of plants and animals. Occupying a meager 0.1% of the ocean surface, coral reefs are one of the oldest and most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, and they are under great threat.
Global warming and climate change have been buzz words on peoples lips for many years, words often used too flippantly without the real implications of these words being known. Climate change and in particular warming of the world’s oceans now pose a massive threat to coral reefs and their existence.
There are a multitude of tribulations coral reefs have to battle. Rising ocean temperatures have led to an increased incidence in coral bleaching, although it is possible for corals to recover from bleaching events additional stressors make the recovery process extremely slow.
Additional stress corals have to cope with include over fishing, certain species of reef fish play a crucial role in maintaining reef health. Parrot fish are a key species in helping to maintain a coral-algae balance, these fish are herbivores which graze upon algae that invade reef surfaces. Unfortunately Parrot fish are becoming highly sought after and are appearing more commonly on restaurant menus due to the decline of other popular fish species, which have already been fished out. Without these fish the dynamics of the reef become out of balance, and instead of the beautiful corals, the reef becomes overrun with algae.
The tourism boom hasn’t helped the plight of coral reefs either. Lack of planning, poor land use management, deforestation of coastal mangroves (to make way for hotels and resorts) and runoff of land-based pollutants, sediments and sewage all contribute to the deterioration of reef health. Even scuba divers naively kicking up sediment can add unnecessary stress to a reef. Energy reserves that corals would ordinarily use for catching food, now have to be diverted away and used for removing sediment off of the surface of the coral.
Each of these factors alone aren’t responsible for the demise of coral reefs, but a combination of these stressors has proved detrimental to reef health. Just as in humans, stress invites illness by wearing down immunity, and evidence suggests this may also hold true for corals.
The good news is, we can do our bit, however small and insignificant your contribution may seem, the saying ‘every little helps’ is very true. By being more aware of the environment around us, by making educated choices we could make a real difference not only to coral reefs but to the planet as a whole.
Story By Jenna Yates.