80% of the ocean is undiscovered, and that alone makes up reasons 1 through 7 of why I am apprehensive of large masses of water (tell me I’m not alone on this, please).
Its immensity is objectively terrifying but, at the same time, all the alien-looking marine life is fascinating. Like, have you seen the meme-worthy blobfish?
And then you have corals and coral reefs. All those colors, all that life, buzzing like busy cities.
⭐️ Most of the info in this post comes from the film Chasing Coral (100/10, go watch it)
Quick facts about coral reefs
If you’ve watched Finding Nemo, Shark Tales or the Little Mermaid, you might already have this idea of coral reefs as magical places full of life. And the reality is even cooler than that, so before we get into the nitty-gritty here you have a lightning round of facts about coral reefs and why we should give them more love:
- Corals are actually animals made up of thousands – sometimes millions – of tiny polyps that contain even tinnier algae in their tissue. Thanks to these algae doing their photosynthesis magic, coral reefs produce oxygen (more on that later).
- Coral reefs host 25% of all marine life, up to 2 million species.
- Some of the oldest coral reefs are 50 million years.
- There are many coral reefs across our oceans, mostly in the southern hemisphere. The largest one, the Great Barrier Reef covers over 2,300 km (1,400 miles) of the northeast coast of Australia.
- Some coral reefs are so big they can be seen from space.
Why are corals dying?
What you see in this gif is called coral bleaching and it’s one of the main reasons why corals are dying and coral reefs are disappearing.
Close to 50% of the world’s coral reefs have already disappeared. And at this rate, we’ll have destroyed 90% of coral reefs before this century is over.
Did you know that the global temperature rise affects the oceans more than it affects land? This is because large masses of water absorb most of the temperature from the sun. Corals are extremely sensitive animals that, under the stress produced by the increasing heat, expel the tiny algae living inside of them as a defense mechanism.
Once the algae are gone, so is the main source of food of the polyps, which end up starving and dying.
No more buzzing coral reef-city life. They are the base of marine life, crucial for the food chain. Imagine a big city without proper housing and essential workers, from maintenance to healthcare and food suppliers – that’s the ocean without coral reefs.
They are shutting down and were doing nothing.
Now that we’ve gone through the hard part, I’ll tell you that I choose to believe that there can be a solution for every problem, and there are many things you can start doing today to help the coral reefs.
There’s a lot you can do on a large scale, like addressing your policymakers through petitions or becoming an activist in your community.
But you can also proudly do your bit with individual actions like reducing your carbon footprint, tweaking your diet (at this point we’ve all seen Seaspiracy), or consuming less unnecessary stuff – things like fast fashion have more to do with climate change and ocean conservation than you might think.
Today, I want to chat with you about some of the many reasons why we need to start taking ocean conservation seriously and act, like, yesterday.
Why do we need to save the coral reefs?
1. Coral reefs are CO2 sinks
And they pump out oxygen like crazy so that you and I can, like, survive.
Reefs cover a teeny tiny portion of the scary immensity of the ocean floor (0.0025%) but they’re productive as hell, so they generate more than half of the earth’s oxygen thanks to the many little algae living in them. They also absorb one third of the carbon we create.
They’re so good at their job that actually only 30% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by trees and that the rest comes from the ocean. Mind = blown.
But you know, this is just oxygen and it won’t be a reason important enough for some, so let’s go over a few more.
2. Coral reefs are the base of the marine food chain
Hosting 25% of all known marine species, reefs are alive and they create their own environment.
Millions of fishies, plankton, turtle families and seaweed forests going about their lives in these underwater oases. They all choose to stay in the reefs for a reason: they can find there all they need.
This environment becomes the base of the marine food chain. Where the tiniest plankton is eaten by tiny fish that are eaten by bigger fish and so on.
Symbiosis at its finest, amiright?
So, what would happen without coral reefs? Will the food chain collapse? Will the next links of the chain progressively disappear just like the corals?
3. Coral reefs provide food and money to many human communities
Small fish are eaten by middle-sized fish that are eaten by big fish that are eaten by us.
According to the UN, coral reefs produce 17% of all globally consumed protein. But for many coastal countries or islands, around the reefs, this percentage is 70% and higher.
Also, the Great Barrier Reef generates more than 1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy alone, from fishing and tourism.
It’s true that the way the fishing industry works is (very) controversial and ethically questionable, but we cannot forget that millions of people around the globe truly depend on them, both physically and financially.
It’s also interesting that the fishing industry depends on coral reefs because many fish spend their “childhood” in them before making their way to the open sea. If there are no coral reefs to host and feed young fish, this can all spiral into a global supply problem. And yes, I can’t get over the irony of this industry needing reefs and destroying them at the same time with some of its practices.
4. Medical investigation and scientific research
Coral reefs give smart science people information about things such as major climatic events and human impact over the past million years or so.
They’re able to see how environmental changes have impacted their growth patterns during different periods and use that info to create accurate timelines. See? They look like tree rings.
Corals have also been used for medical research because they contain substances and microorganisms that might help treat Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.
5. They are natural breakwaters
This might sound trivial – it certainly did to me before researching this whole topic –, but without coral reefs to protect the shore, some human settlements by the ocean would be royally screwed.
Breakwaters are concrete structures we build along coastlines that, among many other things, reduce the intensity of waves hitting the coast and avoid extreme seafloor erosion. Coral reefs do pretty much the same acting as a natural buffer between the waves and the shore.
6. They’re stunning when they’re not bleached
This has to be a reason.
I don’t want to go snorkeling to the Great Barrier Reef – after conquering my fear to the ocean and all – and find the spooky sight of a ghost town of bleached corals.
It’s obvious that we need them. Now they need us, so we should be able to return the favor.
What can I do to save the reefs?
I’m honestly amazed at how necessary coral reefs are for us, but I’m also terrified at how much we ignore them. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Whenever we see videos of the Amazon burning, the Australian bushfires, or California going up in flames, we panic and we’re able to understand that something is very wrong. We’re outraged, we talk about who’s responsible and about how to tackle climate change to avoid the same thing repeating over again. Why don’t we behave the same way with coral reefs?
Watching the documentary Chasing Coral really changed the way I look at the ocean and made me realize that, even if it looks intimidating, it needs us.
There are many ways to help our coral reefs both on a large scale and on a personal one. You can look up what your local community, your region or your country are doing for the ocean, and mobilize in case you’re not happy with the answer you get.
You can also donate the many wonderful initiatives to rescue coral reefs around the globe. One of them is Coral Gardeners, an organization that lets you adopt a coral and plants it for you.
You can also make a couple of lifestyle changes and always remember that your individual acts can go a long way, mostly if you share the message you stand for with those around you.
And speaking of sharing the message…corals need visibility, why don’t you start by sharing this post?