These million-year-old ocean jungles produce oxygen and sustain ecosystems. Why do we need to save the coral reefs and how can we do it?
About 80% of the ocean is unexplored, and that alone makes up reasons 1 through 7 of why I am apprehensive of large masses of water.
Its immensity is objectively terrifying but, at the same time, all the alien-looking marine life is fascinating. Like the blobfish, who I’m sure has a beautiful personality.
And then you have corals and coral reefs. All those colors, all that life, buzzing like busy cities.
Besides being pretty and interesting to look at, corals are also important. They produce oxygen and they’re the base of many marine ecosystems.
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⭐️ Most of the facts we’ll talk about come from the film Chasing Coral (100/10, go watch it)
Quick facts about coral reefs
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), just like trees do.
- 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.
Another thing you should know is that the world’s coral reefs are going through a hard time. The problems they’re facing include ocean acidification, plastic pollution and the bazillion microplastics swimming around our oceans.
Why are coral reefs disappearing?
What you see in this gif below 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 global warming affects the oceans more than it affects the land?
This is because large masses of water absorb most of the temperature from the sun. Corals are extremely sensitive creatures that, under the stress produced by the 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 for the polyps, which end up starving and dying.
They are the base of marine life because they’re crucial links of the food chain. Imagine a big city without proper housing and essential workers – that’s the ocean without coral reefs.
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 survive and all that.
Reefs cover a teeny tiny portion of the scary immensity of the ocean floor (0.0025%) but they’re damn productive, so they generate more than 50% of the Earth’s oxygen thanks to the many little algae living in them. They also absorb 1/3 of our carbon emissions.
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 seaweeds go about their lives in these underwater jungles. They all choose to stay in the reefs for a reason: they can find 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.
So, what would happen without coral reefs? Would the food chain collapse? Would the next links of the chain slowly disappear, just like the corals?
3. Coral reefs provide food and money to many communities
According to the UN, 17% of all protein consumed globally comes from coral reefs. But for many coastal countries and islands close to reefs, this percentage is 70% or higher.
They also generate wealth in these communities. The Great Barrier Reef generates more than 1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy from fishing and tourism alone.
It’s true that the way the fishing industry works is (very) ethically questionable, but we cannot forget that millions of people around the world, including aboriginal communities, truly depend on it.
But it’s also interesting that commercial fishing depends on coral reefs because many fish spend their “childhood” there before making their way into the open sea, but, at the same time, it plays a big role in the degradation of reefs.
4. Medical investigation and scientific research
Coral reefs give smart science people information about things like major climatic events and human impact over the past million years.
They’re able to see how environmental changes have impacted the coral growth patterns during different periods and then use that info to create accurate timelines. See? They look like tree rings.
Corals are also starting to be used for medical research because they contain substances and microorganisms that might help understand and treat Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.
5. They are natural breakwaters
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
I don’t want to go snorkeling to the Great Barrier Reef – after conquering my fear of the ocean and all – and find the spooky sight of a ghost town of bleached corals.
It’s obvious that we need them, and we’ve benefitted from their existence since the beginning of time. Now they need us and we should be able to return the favor.
How can we save the coral reefs?
I’m honestly amazed at how necessary coral reefs are for us, but I’m also terrified at how 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 know that something is very wrong. We’re angry, we try to find who’s responsible, and we look for ways to avoid the same thing repeating over again. Why don’t we behave the same way with coral reefs?
I can tell you that I choose to believe that there is a solution for every problem, and there are many things we can start doing today to help the coral reefs.
You can do your bit with individual actions like
- reducing your carbon footprint (although we know how controversial that is)
- tweaking your diet (you can watch Seaspiracy to learn more)
- buying less unnecessary stuff, as things like fast fashion have more to do with climate change and ocean degradation than you might think
- make a donation to 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 even name it.
- demanding action from your policymakers through petitions, or by becoming an activist in your community and spreading the word about marine conservation.
And speaking of sharing the message…corals need visibility, why don’t you start by sharing this post?