The Important Role of Coral Reefs: And The 50% Loss of The Entire Population

The Important Role of Coral Reefs: And The 50% Loss of The Entire Population

Coral reefs is like the grass and trees of the ocean, the plants of the ocean ecosystem. Beside of it’s beauty, God doesn’t create these underwater vegetation just for a decoration. These corals were home for small aquatic creatures, and preventative measures of natural disasters to protect humankind. Apparently, like green forests does, these coral vegetation is experiencing deforestation. About half of the total vegetation is dead, 40% are about to die, and only 10% are in good condition. This article dissect why is it so important exactly.

What is Coral Reefs is Exactly?

It may look like an immovable aquatic plants, but in actuality, corals are animal (we just use the plant metaphor above to explain coral reefs in a nutshell). Now we know that they are not plants, that means they can’t make their own food. Corals have tiny, tentacle-like arms that they use to capture their food, such as algae and zooplankton from the water and sweep it into their complex mouths. Corals are animals that lives in a colony, and since they can’t move, their method of survival is to merge, these merged coral colonies are called coral polyps.

Corals merge with one another and create coral polyp, shaped like a cylinder, with a mouth at one end, surrounded by tentacles. These arm-like tentacles gather foods for the coral, and also function as a defense mechanism that stings predators that threaten the coral. Coral reefs is what we call a large area of coral polyps, the rainforest of the ocean. This coral fortress is built out of the mutualistic symbiosis between coral and nearby algae. Algae consume coral’s excrement for photosynthesis, releasing oxygen and carbohydrates for corals to build reefs.

It is one of the most complex and fascinating marine ecosystem in the ocean. Nearly a quarter of all the fish in the sea rely on healthy coral reefs to provide habitats for them in the ocean, source of food and shelter for marine animals including fishes, molluscs, sea urchins and sponges. Corals can be found in tropical and freezing water temperatures, the reefs however, can only be built in in warm, shallow seas in the tropics. Now that we know what exactly is a coral and it’s reefs, let’s move on to how can these marine ecosystem helps us.

Coral Reefs for the Survival of Living Organism

First, like we said before, these coral forests support the survival of many aquatic animals, providing them shelter and food. These coral reefs is larger than life, with thousands of species can be found living on one reef. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the home of over 400 coral species, 1500 fish species, 4000 mollusc species and 6 of the whole world’s 7 sea turtle species. Beside of aquatic animals and plants, these coral forest is useful for human as well, such as fishing, tourism industries, and the coastal protection they provide.

Some people rely on coral reefs for food and jobs, but the most important is coastal defence. The coral fortress act as barriers and capable to reduce wave energy by up to 97%, providing crucial protection from natural disaster such as tsunamis. It serves as tourist attraction and protector of the locals, from natural threats and damage by reducing the impact of large waves on shore. Considering how important it is, protecting coral reefs high priority for many oceanographers and other marine conservationists.

Coral reefs as tourist attraction and shelter for marine life

Photo is taken from: Accor Hotels
Coral reefs as tourist attraction and shelter for marine life
Photo is taken from: Accor Hotels

So in recap, coral reefs provide survival kits such as shelter and food to a tons of marine life. For our benefit, it provide us a shield for our coastline against storms and erosion, provide job opportunity for local communities, and offer beautiful tourism site. Beside, it is an abundant source of food and new medicines, good for those who fish, dive, and snorkel either for work or just for the fun of it. One thing to remember is that you better not take corals straight from the ocean back to your home as souvenirs, their population are dying.

The Current Condition of Coral Reefs

Yes, It’s dying like we told you in the first paragraph. From the whole population in the whole world, half of them has been wiped out, and from that number, 40% is in the brink of death. Their damage came from warming waters, pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and physical destruction, it’s happening all around the world. Anne Cohen, a coral expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts argued that without a mix of long-term cuts in emissions and short-term innovation, coral reefs might cease to exist.

Coral bleaching caused by overheating water and pollution

Photo is taken from: Euronews
Coral bleaching caused by overheating water and pollution
Photo is taken from: Euronews

Speaking of marine ecosystem, you might read: Seven Clean Seas Carrying Out Revolutionary Moves For The Marine Ecosystem Since 2018

If corals got exposed to stress from hot temperatures or pollution, they will end their symbiotic relationship with algae around them. The more they got exposed to heat and pollution, the more chances they will die, it will turn white at first (this is their dying state). If this continue, eventually these corals will starve and die, turning a dark brown. Coral bleaching is at it’s peak in 2016, when an El Niño weather pattern, which causes warmer waters in the Pacific Ocean. Greatly affect the Great Coral Reef as it kills roughly half of it’s reefs.

Source: Coral reef ecosystems, By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Coral, By National Geographic

Why are coral reefs important?, By Natural History Museum

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