I have a love-hate relationship with the ocean and all its creatures.
A part of me is terrified at the idea of its immensity, and at how little we actually know about it. C’mon, it can get creepy.
But, at the same time, all the alien-looking marine life fascinates me.
Like, there are fish with lanterns on their heads. Just wow.
Then you have coral and coral reefs. All those colors, all that life.
Buzzing like busy cities.
You got little fish cleaning big fish, clownfish playing hide and seek amongst the anemone, shark gangs swimming around,…
Okay, I might have watched one too many animation movies about fish. But we cannot deny it: coral reefs are magical places full of life.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here you have some quick facts about corals and coral reefs:
- Corals are actually animals made up of thousands, MILLIONS, of tiny polyps that contain even tinnier algae in their tissue. These algae are the ones that produce oxygen through photosynthesis
- Coral reefs host 25% of marine life, up to 2 million species
- Some of the oldest coral reefs are as old as 50 million years
- There are many, 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) and it’s off the northeast coast of Australia
- Some coral reefs are so big they can be seen from space
What you see in this gif is called coral bleaching – how corals and coral reefs die.
Close to 50% of the world’s coral reefs have already disappeared. And at this rate, 90% will have died before this century is over.
Did you know that the oceans take up most of the temperature from the sun, so the temperature rise due to climate change affects the oceans even more than the land?
Corals are extremely sensitive animals that, under the stress produced by the heat, expel the tiny algae living inside of them as a defence mechanism.
Once the algae are gone, so is the main source of food of the polyps.
They end up starving and dying.
This is heartbreaking. No more buzzing coral reef-city life, no more little fish cleaning big fish.
They are shutting down and were doing nothing.
They are the base of marine life. Imagine New York without skyscrapers – that’s the ocean without corals.
BUT I’m a firm believer that there are solutions for everything. And there are many many things you can start doing today to help the coral reefs.
For now, I want to have a chat with you about the reasons why we HAVE TO take coral reef conservation seriously.
Why we need to save the coral reefs
1. Coral reefs produce a huge amount of oxygen
And we kind of need O2 to 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 half of the earth’s oxygen thanks to the little algae living in them
Fun fact: did you know that only 30% of the oxygen we breathe is created by trees? The rest comes from the ocean!
I think this reason alone should convince everyone, but let’s see some more.
2. They absorb one third of the carbon dioxide we create
Do you know that expression about the Amazon forest being the lungs of the earth? Actually coral reefs well deserve that title.
3. Coral reefs are the base of the marine food chain
Reefs are alive. They create their own environment.
Remember that we said they host 25% of marine life? Coral reefs are their home, the place where they go about their lives.
These fishies choose reefs for a reason. There they have all the resources 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? Answer is probably yes.
4. Coral reefs provide food and money to many human communities
Middle-sized fish eat little fish, big fish eat middle-sized fish and we eat big fish.
According to the UN, coral reefs produce 17% of all globally consumed protein. But for many coastal countries or islands, around the reefs, this ratio is 70% and higher.
The fishing industry depends on coral reefs because many fish spend their “childhood” in coral reefs before making their way to the open sea.
It is true that fishing – mostly overfishing – can be very ethically controversial. But we cannot forget that there are human communities that cannot survive without those resources.
Also, the Great Barrier Reef generates more than 1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy alone, from fishing and tourism.
5. Medical investigation, and other types of scientific research
Coral reefs give smart science people information about things such as major climatic events, storms and human impact over the past million years or so.
How? Thanks to changes in the growth patterns of their skeletons.
They literally show how environmental changes impacted their growth – it is something like counting the rings on an old tree.
Coral reefs also have a role in the research of cancer treatments, as researchers have found out that they can use substances found in corals to treat certain types of cancer.
6. They are natural breakwaters
I didn’t know what a breakwater was before writing this, but without them, most human settlements by the ocean wouldn’t be in a very nice situation.
They are basically structures that reduce the intensity of waves hitting the coast and avoid extreme seafloor erosion, thus reducing the risk of harm on human settlements.
7. They’re stunning when they’re not bleached
Shouldn’t this be a proper reason?
Like, look at this beauty.
I don’t want to go snorkelling to the Great Barrier Reef and – after conquering my fear to the ocean – just finding the spooky sight of bleached corals.
I want to see colors, that buzzing sea city life – and all that alien-looking stuff.
I’m honestly amazed at how necessary coral reefs are for us.
But I’m also terrified at how little attention we pay to them. But out of sight, out of mind. Right?
If we saw a forest burning, we would panic, we would understand that something is not right.
We would try to do ANYTHING to put the fire down.
Watching the documentary Chasing Coral really changed the way I look at the ocean and made me understand how important coral reefs are and why we need to save them.
There are many ways to help our coral reefs. You can donate money to Coral Gardeners, who “plant” new corals and help them grow.
But if you cannot spend your cash, why don’t you consider some lifestyle changes instead?
Remember that we, as individuals, have an incredible power to change things.
Corals need visibility, why don’t you start by sharing this post?