Earth ScienceEnvironment

CORAL REEFS IN DANGER: THE THREATS, THE CONSEQUENCES, THE FUTURE

BY: MADELEINE HSU

ABSTRACT

This article discusses coral reefs, the danger and threats they are facing, and how different marine animals and plants are being affected by factors like climate change, coastal development, and more.  This article also considers the possible restoration techniques used to rehabilitate coral reefs, as well as some of the governmental policies from around the world that have been put in place to restore our reefs. Lastly, this article also reviews ways we ourselves can help to save coral reefs. Coral reefs face many natural and anthropogenic threats.  Natural threats include the crown of thorns starfish, and anthropogenic threats include factors such as environmentally toxic sunscreens, destructive fossil fuel extraction methods, and the use of cyanide fishing. As a result, photosynthetic marine organisms and animals that live in the coral reefs are being affected too. The photosynthetic marine organisms focused on in this article are algae and seagrass.  The marine animals that are mentioned are butterfly fish and humphead wrasse. Meanwhile, coral reef restorationists and different governmental bodies around the world have made an effort to improve the health of coral reefs.  Coral restorationists have invented many different clever ways to protect and nurture our corals, and many countries’ governments, like those of Belize, China, and Australia, have implemented protective measures to save our reefs. For example some nations have created marine protected areas. While governments attempt to solve this problem on a broad scale, it is our responsibility to do our part locally as well.  In the article, I suggest ways we can take action ourselves to improve the health of coral reefs. Through this research project, I found that coral reefs are in serious jeopardy. However, with help from governments, restorationists, and also doing our part as an individual, it is possible that we will be able to save these valuable ecosystems.

Underwater view of a coral

Description automatically generated A close up of a coral

Description automatically generated

1. assorted fish in coral reef during daytime, fishes, underwater. Photograph. Wallpaper Flare.Accessed September 6, 2020. https://www.wallpaperflare.com/assorted-

fish-in-coral-reef-during-daytime-fishes-underwater-wallpaper-wvluf.

2. Patankar, Vardhan. Bleached coral, Acoropora sp. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. May

12, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bleached_coral,_Acoropora_sp.jpg.

INTRODUCTION

When one pictures a coral reef, images of colorful corals, pristine blue water, and active marine animals come to mind. Healthy coral reefs are vibrant and incredibly biodiverse ecosystems. In fact, while coral reefs only make up about less than 1% of the ocean floor, they house nearly 25% of life in the ocean[1]. Sadly, this idyllic image is often different from the harsh reality faced by many coral reefs. All around the world, these delicate reef ecosystems are becoming increasingly more devoid of color and life due to the negative effects of anthropogenic environmental change. 

Coral reefs provide important ecosystem services because they protect coastal areas, are a source of food and medicines, and are used as recreational spaces. Although some species in coral reefs can adapt to anthropogenic environmental change threats, it remains crucial for us as humans to actively protect our coral reef ecosystems. We must do so not only because reefs provide us with so many benefits, but also because we have a duty to protect the marine species that rely on healthy reef ecosystems for survival. 

I hope that by reading this article you will learn more about coral reefs and the danger they are in. My goal is to inspire you to make some changes in your daily life so that you can play an active role in protecting these important underwater ecosystems.

1. “Shallow Coral Reef Habitat.” NOAA Fisheries. Accessed August 12, 2020.

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/habitat-conservation/shallow-coral-reef-habitat.

GENERAL INFORMATION ON CORAL REEFS

WHAT ARE CORAL REEFS?

Coral reefs are made of stony coral polyps that are stuck together, and only grow 3-20 mm per year[2]. They are the largest living structure on the planet and the only structure that can be seen from space. There are also 3 types of reefs, fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls. As corals die, they leave behind a skeleton which is consisted of calcium carbonate. On this, more corals will grow and will form massive walls of rock which protects coastal areas from flooding.

CORAL REEFS PROVIDING ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

three types of coral reefs[3]:

Fringing reefs: Fringing reefs grow in shallow water and they are found near the coastline. The Bahamas are full of fringing reefs. 

Barrier reefs : Barrier reefs grow parallel to the coast and are found in very deep water. Barrier reefs can grow very deep because the living coral builds up on the dead coral skeletons. A good example is The Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Atolls: Atolls are reefs that surround an island which then sinks relative to sea level. Famous atolls are the atolls of Maldives.

WHAT IS SYMBIOSIS? Symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups. One species needs another species to survive and they provide each other with something just like zooxanthellae and corals.

There are four services that coral reefs provide and those are provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services.  

Provisioning services are services that provide people with food, construction materials, medicine, and livelihoods.  It is estimated that 30 million of the poorest human populations in the world depend on coral reefs as their source of food. Also, many Traditional Chinese Medicine is derived from some coral species or some species associated with coral reefs. 

Regulation services are services that provide people with protection. Coral reefs protect coastal areas to reduce flooding, they act as a physical barrier against tidal surges, tides, and winds.  

Supporting services are services that are necessary for the cycle of all other ecosystem services.  Supporting services include, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and provisioning of habitat. Coral reefs provide us with supporting services because coral reefs are an essential part of land accretion (growth or increase by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter.) 

Cultural services are non-material benefits that contribute to a sense of place and are essential for human health and well-being. Natural tourist destinations are good examples of this type of service. Coral reefs have attracted many people from across the world to come to visit them and many people also go to coral reefs to swim, fish, and marvel at the beauty of these underwater ecosystems. 

2. International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). “What are corals?” ICRI. Accessed August 4, 2020.

https://www.icriforum.org/about-coral-reefs/what-are-corals/.

3. Kids Do Ecology, NCEAS. “Coral Reef.” NCEAS. Accessed August 4, 2020.

http://kids.nceas.ucsb.edu/biomes/coralreef.html.

A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated CORAL ANATOMY

The image on the right is a photo depicting the different anatomical parts of coral.

3. Torresan, Laura. Simplified Coral Anatomy. Illustration. USGS. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/simplified-coral-anatomy.

What are zooxanthellae? Coral polyps have a relationship with tiny single-celled plants, called zooxanthellae. Inside each coral polyp’s tissues are thousands upon thousands of zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae are one of the most vital parts of corals — they provide the coral with food and also give coral it’s vibrant color.  These two are said to be symbiotic because zooxanthellae provide

food for the coral, and, in exchange, the coral

provides a home for the zooxanthellae.

WHAT IS CORAL BLEACHING?

When coral and zooxanthellae cannot maintain their symbiotic relationship, coral bleaching happens. In this case, coral expel zooxanthellae from their polyps, and subsequently lose their algal pigmentation. Because zooxanthellae provide the food and color of corals, the expulsion of these algae will lead to a white and “bleached” appearance[4].In the next section, I will be talking about the issues facing coral reefs and how that leads to coral bleaching and coral death.

4. NOAA. “What is coral bleaching?” National Ocean Service. Accessed August 4, 2020.

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html#:~:text=Warmer%20water%20temperatures%20can%20result,coral%20to%20turn%20completely%20white.&text=Corals%20can%20survive%20a%20bleaching,and%20are%20subject%20to%20mortality.

CAUSES OF CORAL BLEACHING & CORAL DEATH

There are many different causes of coral death, and both anthropogenic and natural factors contribute to this.

A close up

Description automatically generated NATURAL CAUSES

There are many natural factors that cause coral death, such as powerful storms and disruptions caused by other marine animals. For example, there is an animal called the crown of thorns starfish (COTS)[5], which preys on all corals and can eat as much as 10 square meters of coral every year. To do this, they extrude their stomachs from their body and cover the corals. A report by scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science suggests that the between 1985 and 2012, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia has seen a 50% decrease in coral presence, and that COTS alone are responsible for almost half that decline.

Crown of Thorns Starfish

4 Krister, Kris Mikael. Crown Of Thorns Starfish Acanthaster Planci. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. January 12, 2017. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Crown_Of_Thorns_Starfish_Acanthaster_Planci_(223180421).jpeg.

ANTHROPOGENIC CAUSES

Not only have COTS been causing so much harm to coral reefs, but the same can also be said about humans. Anthropogenic causes of coral bleaching and death are ones that result from human activities.

GLOBAL WARMING

Possibly one of the biggest causes of coral bleaching is global warming. Open oceans absorb almost all of the excess heat resulting from the greenhouse gas effect, which leads to an increase of water temperatures. A rise of just 1ºC above average ocean temperature can induce coral bleaching. This rise of temperature puts stress on the symbiotic relationship between coral and zooxanthellae, and coral are more likely to then expel the zooxanthellae from their polyps. This expulsion of zooxanthellae leads to a loss of coral color and coral ultimately become white or ‘bleached’ in appearance.

5. Isabella Kwai. “A Voracious Starfish Is Destroying the Great Barrier Reef.” The New York Times (Bryon Bay, Australia),

January 5, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/world/australia/starfish-coral-great-barrier-reef.html.

SUNSCREEN

Surprisingly, sunscreen also causes coral bleaching. It is estimated that 4000 to 6000 metric tons of sunscreen every year washes off of beachgoers and is left in the ocean. Sunscreen can be harmful to corals because many sunscreens contain chemicals that are deadly to zooxanthellae[6]. These chemicals are butylparaben, octinoxate, benzophenone, and methylbenzilydene. When these chemicals come in contact with coral, they can awaken dormant viruses within the zooxanthellae. These viruses reproduce until the algae host cells explodes, which causes the zooxanthellae to die off, thereby leading to coral bleaching.

CYANIDE TABLETS

Destructive fishing methods also contribute to the process of coral bleaching. One particularly harmful method of fishing is ‘cyanide fishing,’ which is especially popular in East/South East Asia. In cyanide fishing, fishermen crush sodium cyanide tablets, and throw the resulting powder into the water where fish near coral reefs live. This solution paralyzes the fish so the fisherman can easily catch them. They then later sell the still-alive fish at the market. Moreover, if the fish happen to escape the cyanide, the fishermen will hammer at the coral until they successfully retrieve the fish. Sadly, cyanide is extremely harmful for zooxanthellae. It acts as a poison, suffocating the zooxanthellae. When the zooxanthellae dies off, coral bleaching will occur.

However, corals are not the only species in their ecosystems being affected by global warming. There are other marine animals and plants at risk as well. In the next section, I will focus on how plants that live in and around coral reefs are being affected.

6. Christiana Briddell,. “Chemistry and Coral Reefs – Bleaching and Greening.” ACS. Last modified February 13, 2013.

Accessed August 4, 2020. https://communities.acs.org/community/science/sustainability/green-chemistry-nexus-blog/blog/2013/02/13/chemistry-and-coral-reefs-bleaching-and-greening.

HOW ARE PHOTOSYNTHETIC MARINE ORGANISMS BEING AFFECTED?

As we have already discussed, anthropogenic and natural factors have caused significant damage to coral reefs,  however, photosynthetic marine organisms are being affected too.  In this section, I will be talking about how two examples of photosynthetic marine organisms, algae and seagrass, are impacted by different factors.

ALGAE AFFECTED BY CARBON DIOXIDE

A body of water

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Algae’s relationship to coral: 

Algae are very important for a healthy coral reef ecosystem to be achieved. Algae provide habitat for many marine animals and they are the base of the food chain that provides food for the whole coral reef community. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ALGAE?

Algae

5. Ramirez, Daniel. Green Algae on Beach. Photograph. Flickr. July 23, 2010. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://www.flickr.com/photos/danramarch/4909398403.

There are many unique types of algae that benefit coral reefs in different ways.  Below are a few examples of those algae.  They are halimeda, crustose coralline algae and turf algae. 

A close up of a fish

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HALIMEDA:

Halimeda is a bright green alga that contains calcium carbonate in its branches.  When the branches fall off, they become sand in the reef.[7] Sand is very important in any body of water because it helps regulate temperature. Thus, halimeda is beneficial in protecting coral reefs from extreme temperature fluctuations.

Halimeda growing at the bottom of a coral reef

6. James St. John. Halimeda incrassata (Ellis, 1768) on shallow, aragonitic sandy seafloor. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. June 22, 2010. Accessed September 6,

2020.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Halimeda_incrassata_(calcareous_green_algae)_(San_Salvador_Island,_Bahamas)_2_(15865959248).jpg.

7. E, A, Titlyanov, T. V. Titlyanova, and M. Tokeshi. “Marine Plants in Coral Reef Ecosystems of Southeast Asia.” Global

Journal of Science Frontier Research. Last modified 2018. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://globaljournals.org/GJSFR_Volume18/1-Marine-Plants-in-Coral-Reef.pdf.

CRUSTOSE CORALLINE ALGAE (CCA):

A picture containing broccoli, green, food, sitting

Description automatically generated Another important algae for coral reefs is crustose coralline algae (CCA). This red algae (see below for photo) is often called the cement of the reef because it grows over loose reef fragments and functions to glue those parts of the reefs together. CCA also provides an underlying layer for coral larvae, thereby promoting the growth of future coral colonies.

TURF:

Turf is also a type of algae that benefits our coral reefs. Turf is a collection of small, filamentous algae that acts sort of like a mat, covering the space at the bottom of the reef. Turf is beneficial to coral reefs because it is a major food source for many fish and sea urchins.

Turf at the bottom of a reef

7. Southwood, Peter. Algal turf on the reef at Buffels Bay, Cape Peninsula, South Africa. Photograph.

    Wikimedia Commons. 2007. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

    File:Algal_turf_at_Buffels_Bay_DSC09790.JPG.

TINY ALGAE (ZOOXANTHELLAE):

As mentioned in the ‘General Information’ section above, the tiny algae that live within corals are called zooxanthellae. These algae are the major, if not only, food source of corals.  These algae produce so much food (in the form of sugar molecules) that the coral cannot possibly consume all of it.  This excess sugar is made into a slimy mucus.  This mucus is very important because it covers corals and it prevents the corals from diseases and drying out when there are low tides. This mucus can also end up floating in the surrounding water, ultimately being eaten by other smaller organisms that live in the reef.[8]

HOW IS ALGAE BEING AFFECTED? WHY IS IT BEING DESTROYED?

A close up of a coral

Description automatically generated Most notably, one of the algae being

Crustose Coralline Algae (CCA)

8. Southwood, Peter. Crustose coralline algae, South East Bay, Manawa Tawhi, Three Kings Islands. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. October 12, 2012. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

 File:Crustose_coralline_algae,_South_East_Bay,_Three_Kings_Islands_PA121443.JPG

negatively impacted by external factors is crustose coralline algae. This species has been affected by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the ocean.  When oceans absorb carbon dioxide, the water becomes more acidic (a lower pH level).  This is detrimental for CCA because this algae has a harder time producing their skeleton in acidic environments. Without a stable skeleton and shell, this algae is more vulnerable to being destroyed and die faster.

8. Nils Rädecker and Claudia Pogoreutz. “Why Are Coral Reefs Hotspots of Life in the Ocean?” frontiers. Last modified

December 17, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2019.00143.

HOW ARE PHOTOSYNTHETIC MARINE ORGANISMS BEING AFFECTED?

SEAGRASS AFFECTED BY DEVELOPMENT

HOW DOES SEAGRASS BENEFIT THE CORAL REEF?

fun fact

When professor Drew Harvell, of Cornell University was with his team investigating coral health, his whole team fell sick including one team member who got typhoid fever.  Later, Dr Joleah Lamb, also from Cornell University, went to further investigate this phenomenon. He found that seagrass serves to reduce harmful bacteria.  In the report, Dr. Joleah suggests that when seagrass is present, there is a 50% lower chance of bacterial infection that can lead to disease to humans and marine animals.[9]

As an ecosystem engineer, seagrass benefits coral reefs in many different ways. An ecosystem engineer is an organism that helps maintain a healthy habitat or modifies a habitat to make it healthier. Not only does seagrass provide a habitat and food source for many marine animals, but it also stabilizes sediment that comes from the shoreline, trapping it so it does not flow into the coral reefs. One of the most important things seagrass does is enhance water quality and produce oxygen. Through the process of photosynthesis, seagrass sequesters a significant amount of CO2 that exists in the water, and produces oxygen as a byproduct. Seagrass also reduces wave energy so that the waves can’t destroy the delicate corals.

How are they being affected? Why are they being destroyed?

Nevertheless, seagrass is being destroyed, primarily due to coastal development. In fact, on average, around two football fields of seagrass dies every hour! As a result, there has been there is a lower total number of species in the surrounding marine ecosystem, fewer critical fisheries habitats, and increased erosion, as there is no seagrass to bind sediment. [10] It has also been shown that the damage caused when boats drop their anchor and rip off parts of seagrass has lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of decline — seagrass cannot recolonize within the destabilized sediment after the disruption caused by boats.

9. Suzanna M. Evans, Kingsley J. Griffin, Ray A. J. Blick, Alistair G. B. Poore, and Adriana Vergés. “Seagrass on the brink:

Decline of threatened seagrass Posidonia australis continues following protection.” PLOS ONE. Last modified April 6, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190370.

10. Ian, Johnston. “Underwater meadows that protect humans from deadly bacteria in alarming global decline.” Independent,

February 16, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/seagrass-bacteria-typhoid-dysentery-meadows-antibacterial-indonesia-a7584321.html

HOW ARE MARINE ANIMALS BEING AFFECTED?

Just as marine plants are being affected, so are marine animals. In this section, I will be talking about two different types of marine animals that live in coral reefs and are affected by different factors.

BUTTERFLY FISH AFFECTED BY CORAL DEATH

about butterfly fish: 

The butterfly fish is a small marine fish that dwells in tropical and subtropical waters, typically around coral reefs. They have coevolved with other organisms in their environment and have developed a jaw that allows them to pierce through tiny crevices, so that they are able to bite off coral polyps.[11]  The only food they eat is a special coral called Acropora Hyacinthus.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BUTTERFLY FISH?

A close up of a fish

Description automatically generated Butterfly fish are essential to the balance of the ecosystem.  These fish act as a bioindicator for the reef ecosystem because of their unique feeding habits on Acropora Hyacinthus coral and their close relationship with the reef habitat.[12] This is to say that the presence of butterfly fish in coral reefs is correlated to live coral cover and low level of physical disturbance which are two very crucial factors that could affect coral reefs health.

Butterfly fish

9. BS Turner Hof. Chelmon rostratus. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed September 6, 2020.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chelmon_rostratus_Kupferstreifen-Pinzettfisch.jpg.

How are BUTTERFLY FISH being affected?

Because butterfly fish only eat Acropora hyacinthus, which is quite rare, when this coral runs out, the fish will lose their food source and will face threat of extinction. A study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that butterfly fish only eat the special coral Acropora hyacinthus and would rather starve than eat other foods.  Without a food source for butterflyfish, the fish would grow thin, weak and die.

11. Monica Weinheimer, and R. Jamil Jonna. “Chaetodontidae Butterflyfishes.” Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 4,

2020. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Chaetodontidae/#conservation_status.

12. WorldFish. “The use of butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) as bioindicator in coral reef ecosystem. p. 175- 183. In Phang, S. -M.

and M. T. Brown (eds.). Biomonitoring of tropical coastal ecosystems.” WorldFish. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.worldfishcenter.org/content/use-butterflyfish-chaetodontidae-bioindicator-coral-reef-ecosystem-p-175-183-phang-s-m-and-m.

HUMPHEAD WRASSE AFFECTED BY OVER FISHING

A large fish in a clear blue sky

Description automatically generated

about humphead wrasse: 

Humphead wrasse is a huge fish that can grow to over 6 feet long.  Their most prominent feature is a huge bulge on the top of their head.[13] Some humphead wrasses can also live to over 30 years old.  They mainly eat hard shelled species like mollusks, starfish and crustaceans.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HUMPHEAD WRASSE?

Humphead wrasse

10. Jene0001. Humphead wrasse in the red sea. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. October 18, 2008. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napoleon-fish.jpg.

Humphead wrasse is one of the only species that eat crown of thorns starfish.[14] And as we discussed above, COTS has been killing reefs and eating up all

the corals.  With humphead wrasse eating up COTS, this fish species very much benefits coral reefs, effectively preventing more corals from dying.

How are HUMPHEAD WRASSE being affected?

There are very few humphead wrasse left because of fishermen overfishing them for food.  As there are fewer humphead wrasse, they have become even more expensive and super valuable. A majority of humphead wrasse is exported from Indonesia, both legally and illegally, and ends up in Hong Kong which then goes to mainland China. Humphead wrasse can cost up to HKD $7400 or US $940 per kilogram, and there are 2000 wild-caught humphead wrasse that are exported from Indonesia every year, making this an incredibly profitable market![15] More environmentally friendly policies must be passed in order to quell the exploitation of this valuable fish species.

13. World Wildlife Fund. “Humphead Wrasse.” WWF. Accessed August 4, 2020.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/humphead-wrasse.

14. IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Why protect? Ten Good Reasons to Protect and Manage

the Humphead Wrasse.” IUCN. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.iucn.org/commissions/ssc-groups/fishes/grouper-and-wrasse-specialist-group/humphead-wrasse/why-protect.

15 Simon Parry, “The Humphead wrasse: one of the world’s most endangered coral reef fish, and a delicacy for affluent

CORAL RESTORATION

Clearly, a lot of damage has been inflicted upon coral reefs due to anthropogenic and natural causes. But how are organizations and governments saving corals and what has been done in terms of rebuilding what once was? In this section, I will be talking about coral restoration and the different types of restoration.

TYPES OF RESTORATION

PASSIVE RESTORATION: Passive restoration is when a marine protected area is created and secured so that boats can’t enter that area.

ACTIVE RESTORATION: Active restoration is when time, energy and resources are put to directly help coral reefs.

WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF RESTORATION?

The main objective of restoration is to “repair” destroyed parts of reefs and to improve reef resilience.  Reef resilience is when a reef is very strong and can avoid destruction, even in rather harsh conditions. 

fun fact

Just in the USA, there are around 1700 Marine Protected Areas, totaling almost 41% of the water in the country. [17]

EXAMPLE OF PASSIVE RESTORATION

In 2010, the Sandy Island Oyster Bed Marine Protected Area in Grenada was launched and it covers 787 hectares of water in the southwest coast of Carriacou.[16] The purpose of this marine protected area was to have a balance between social, commercial factors and environmental sustainability.

16. International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). “Sandy Island/ Oyster Bed Marine Protected Area Officially Launched in

Carriacou, Grenada.” ICRI. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.icriforum.org/ sandy-island-oyster-bed-marine-protected-area-officially-launched-in-carriacou-grenada/.

17. NOAA. “Where are marine protected areas located?” National Ocean Service. Last modified April 23, 2020. Accessed

August 15, 2020. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/mpaloc.html.

TYPES OF ACTIVE RESTORATION

There are many different types of active restoration.  The two that I will be explaining are structures for corals to grow on and coral nurseries.[18]

CORAL STRUCTURES

One type of active restoration is building solid structures at the bottom of reefs.  This idea was originally developed by Wolf Hilbertz, an American architect, who gained popularity after sharing his idea with many restoration organizations around the world.[19] These structures are normally made of steel. Restorationists will fix these structures to the bottom of the reef before ‘planting’ fresh corals on the structures. The structures are connected to a cable which provides a low-level electric current.  The electricity causes a chemical reaction that leads to the creation of calcium carbonate, which is deposited on to the structure. This artificial creation of calcium carbonate results in the corals being less stressed because they can rely on the structure for calcium carbonate, rather than having to make their own.

CORAL NURSERIES

There are also coral nurseries. Coral nurseries try to increase coral health, diversity and abundance. One form of coral nurseries are coral trees.  These coral trees are tethered to the bottom of the ocean and float in the ocean.  Coral fragments are hung from the branches of the coral tree using a monofilament line. This coral tree is able to move with storm-generated wave surges which dissipates the wave energy so that three will be no damage to the corals and the coral tree.

18. Coral Restoration Foundation. “RESTORATION.” Coral Restoration Foundation. Accessed August 4, 2020.

https://www.coralrestoration.org/restoration.

19. Gaia Vince, “Sunken steel cages could save coral reefs.” The Guardian, August 16, 2009.

RESTORATION POLICIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Many countries around the world have implement policies to protect their coral reefs from being destroyed. The three countries I will be focusing on are Belize, Australia, and China.

AUSTRALIA

What is bottom trawling, why is this bad?

Bottom trawling is when fishermen pull big nets along the bottom of the seafloor. Most fishermen use this method to catch fish because they can catch a huge amount of fish. However, bottom trawling is very harmful because the nets drag everything and rip off marine plants.  

What is offshore drilling? Why is this bad?

Offshore drilling is drilling/extracting oil and gas from underwater. The loud noises from drilling can disrupt animal communication, breeding and nesting.[21]  If the oil spills, it is also detrimental to the animals and environment.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is possibly the most famous coral reef in the world, and is under serious threat of destruction unless quick action is taken.  Australia has implemented many policies, one of them being prohibiting the disposal of port related material in the entire world heritage area. This law was announced on Nov 2014 and came into effect on June 2015.[20]  Australia has also doubled funding to control crown of thorns starfish (COTS) in order to protect coral reefs. Furthermore, the country has increased funding to reduce marine debris and established new, more strict, penalties against poaching.

CHINA

The Chinese government declared environment protection to be a national policy in 1984, and in 1997, sustainable development was turned into a national development strategy.  The government also had a series of laws related to coral reefs.  Some of the laws include, the State Law of Marine Environment Protection, the State Management Regulation Preventing Coastal Engineering Projects from Marine Environmental Damage and Pollution. These laws were issued in 1983 and prohibited coral from being destroyed by coastal engineering.[22]  Another regulation issued in 1998 allied the Hainan Province Regulation of Coral Reef Protection prohibited coral mining, cyanide fishing and blast fishing, coral collection and more.

20. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. “What Australia is doing to manage the Great Barrier Reef.”

Australian Government. Last modified June 2015. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.environment.gov.au/resource/what-australia-doing-manage-great-barrier-reef.

21. The Wilderness Society. “7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment.” The Wilderness Society. Last modified

August 9, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/7-ways-oil-and-gas-drilling-bad-environment.

22. Qiaomin Zhang,. Coral Reef Conservation and Management in China. Accessed August 10, 2020.

http://pubs.iclarm.net/Pubs/coral_reef/pdf/section3-7.pdf.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Although China is internationally recognized as a major source of global pollution and environmental destruction, the Chinese government claims to be trying to restore the health of the South China Sea.  Experts say that China is working very hard to prevent further damage in the South China Sea, but their hard work might not be enough, as they are being hindered by overfishing and rival territorial claims.   Most of the South China Sea is owned by China but some of it belongs to the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan, and other smaller islands. A 10-year plan released in Dec 2019 by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said that China has to contain the erosion of coral reefs, and create marine protected areas over 90% of the area’s coral reefs by 2030. [23] However, as China is  creating policies that aim to save the coral reefs, the country is simultaneously building artificial islands in the south china sea which are destroying coral reefs.  Furthermore, a South China Sea agreement exists between China and the other Southeast Asian countries, however environmental protection is not mentioned. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated Many countries are doing their best to protect coral reefs and making new policies but what can we do ourselves?

1. LIVE A SUSTAINABLE LIFE

Living a sustainable life means maintaining a balanced lifestyle, one where negative impacts to the environment are minimized by reducing excess waste. For example reducing use of plastics and reducing your carbon footprint are among the many behaviors each of us can practice to live more sustainably. Reducing your carbon footprint is when one tries to reduce the carbon emissions that result from his or her actions.  Instead of driving a car, walking, biking, or public transportation are recommended. Simple things like recycling or taking shorter showers can help make a big difference if we all make an effort to be more environmentally aware. As mentioned above, using ‘reef safe’ sunscreens is a great idea because some sunscreens are really harmful to coral reefs.  Some reef-safe sunscreen brands are Badger Sport, Thinksport, and Tropic Sport.

Sustainable earth

11. Gstudioimagen. Ecology Bulb. Photograph. Freepik. Accessed September 6, 2020.

    href=”https://www.freepik.com/vectors/abstract”>Abstract vector created by gstudioimagen –

    www.freepik.com.

2. EAT LESS FISH

Overfishing has become a huge problem in many coastal countries. With so many fish being caught every day, we need to be more aware of how much fish we eat, especially if those fish are endangered or live near coral reefs. 

23. Liu Zhen, and Teddy Ng. “Can Beijing bring the South China Sea’s ravaged coral reefs back to life?” South China Morning

Post, December 21, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3043035/can-beijing-bring-south-china-seas-ravaged-coral-reefs-back.

3. FOLLOW THE RULES

Different countries have put in place policies to conserve natural spaces, and it is our responsibility to follow them. Whenever we go into the ocean, we always need to be careful that we are following the rules, like not polluting and damaging marine protected areas and only fishing in certain permitted areas. 

4. WRITE TO YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Another way to contribute even more is to write to local government officials urging for enhanced environmental protection laws. If you live in a country that owns waters that contain threatened coral reefs, you can write to your local government to take action on the problem. For example, you might suggest that they create marine protected areas. Writing to your local government is a great way to have your voice heard.

what are b corps?

B Corps are corporations that have been certified as environmentally friendly and sustainable.

EXAMPLES OF b corporations:

  • Allbirds
  • Athleta
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Kleen Kantean
  • Eileen Fisher
  • Patagonia

5. SUPPORT ENVIRONMENTAL FRIENDLY BUSINESSES

Every little thing you do can benefit the environment, and one of them is supporting environmentally friendly businesses. It is important to be practice responsibility and caution about the products you purchase. Buying environmentally friendly goods is beneficially not only because these goods are made to be more sustainable, but also because they are normally more durable. A few businesses that focus on sustainable production are IKEA, Lush, and Patagonia and other B Corporations.

6. SPREAD AWARENESS

Last but not the least, spreading awareness is one of the easiest way to get other to know coral reefs. It is important to educate others so they know what to do and how they can take the right steps to protect our ecosystems and live a more sustainable life. There are many different ways to spread awareness ranging from sharing a post on social media for others, to telling your friends and family about this topic, to writing up a report about an issue that you are interested in, to hosting events (in person or virtually) to advocate for environmental awareness and action!

NEW DIRECTIONS

MARINE PLANTS ADAPTATING TO CLIMATE CHANGE

One area of interest that seemed to lack adequate prior research was that of marine plants’ adaptation to climate change. Learning how marine plants living in coral reefs adapt to climate change is important because it gives us better knowledge of the underlying factors behind adaptation and how the species respond to change. With this information, we will be able to better know how we can help these species of plants and create ecosystems that increase their chance of survival.

MARINE ANIMALS BENEFIT TO CORAL REEFS

Underwater view of a coral

Description automatically generated Another area that seemed to be less understood was how marine animals benefit coral reefs.  All marine animals and plants contribute something to our coral reefs, and help support a balanced ecosystem.  Knowing which animals can benefit our coral reefs is very helpful because it will allow us to ensure that there is a healthy amount of this fish in our reefs.  As humans rely on reefs too, it is important that coral reefs stay healthy.

12. Vikram, Jadhav. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. June 5,

2017. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coral_reef_fish_swim_above_the_coral_slope.jpg.

CONCLUSION

Our ideal vision of coral reefs may soon be a distant memory. Coral reefs around the world are being damaged every second, due to many different threats, both natural and anthropogenic. Thankfully, governments have placed many policies to protect our delicate coral reefs, and restorationists have found ways to protect our corals and rebuild the reefs. Coral reefs provide us with so many different services, and as our coral reefs continue to be destroyed, it is our job to protect them. However, corals are not the only species being affected. Many photosynthetic marine organisms and animals have been impacted from the natural and anthropogenic threats, as well. Photosynthetic marine organisms and animals play a huge part in their ecosystems and may help benefit coral reef health. Without coral reefs, 500 million people would be impacted negatively, as many coastal communities rely on coral reefs for income, food, protection and more.[24] There are so many ways we can take action, and by reading this article, I am confident that you have taken something away and will help save our coral reefs!

24. Coral Reefs.” NOAA Office For Coastal Management. Last modified March 8, 2020. Accessed August 12, 2020.

https://coast.noaa.gov/states/fastfacts/coralreefs.html#:~:text=Worldwide%2C%20more%20than%20500%20million,%2C%20coastal%20protection%2C%20and%20more.&text=It’s%20estimated%20that%20coral%20reefs,in%20flood%20damages%20every%20year.

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https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/habitat-conservation/shallow-coral-reef-habitat.

2. International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). “What are corals?” ICRI. Accessed August 4, 2020.

https://www.icriforum.org/about-coral-reefs/what-are-corals/.

3. Kids Do Ecology, NCEAS. “Coral Reef.” NCEAS. Accessed August 4, 2020.

http://kids.nceas.ucsb.edu/biomes/coralreef.html.

4. NOAA. “What is coral bleaching?” National Ocean Service. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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and M. T. Brown (eds.). Biomonitoring of tropical coastal ecosystems.” WorldFish. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.worldfishcenter.org/content/use-butterflyfish-chaetodontidae-bioindicator-coral-reef-ecosystem-p-175-183-phang-s-m-and-m.

13. World Wildlife Fund. “Humphead Wrasse.” WWF. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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the Humphead Wrasse.” IUCN. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.iucn.org/commissions/ssc-groups/fishes/grouper-and-wrasse-specialist-group/humphead-wrasse/why-protect.

15. Simon Parry, “The Humphead wrasse: one of the world’s most endangered coral reef fish, and a delicacy for affluent

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Carriacou, Grenada.” ICRI. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.icriforum.org/ sandy-island-oyster-bed-marine-protected-area-officially-launched-in-carriacou-grenada/.

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http://pubs.iclarm.net/Pubs/coral_reef/pdf/section3-7.pdf.

23. Liu Zhen, and Teddy Ng. “Can Beijing bring the South China Sea’s ravaged coral reefs back to life?” South China Morning

Post, December 21, 2019.

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https://coast.noaa.gov/states/fastfacts/coralreefs.html#:~:text=Worldwide%2C%20more%20than%20500%20million,%2C%20coastal%20protection%2C%20and%20more.&text=It’s%20estimated%20that%20coral%20reefs,in%20flood%20damages%20every%20year.

IMAGE REFERENCES:

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https://www.wallpaperflare.com/assorted-fish-in-coral-reef-during-daytime-fishes-underwater-wallpaper-wvluf.

2. Patankar, Vardhan. Bleached coral, Acoropora sp. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. May

12, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bleached_coral,_Acoropora_sp.jpg.

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https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/simplified-coral-anatomy.

4. Krister, Kris Mikael. Crown Of Thorns Starfish Acanthaster Planci. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. January 12, 2017.

Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crown_Of_Thorns_Starfish_Acanthaster_Planci_(223180421).jpeg.

5. Ramirez, Daniel. Green Algae on Beach. Photograph. Flickr. July 23, 2010. Accessed September 6, 2020.

Green Algae on Beach

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June 22, 2010. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Halimeda_incrassata_(calcareous_green_algae)_(San_Salvador_Island,_Bahamas)_2_(15865959248).jpg.

7. Southwood, Peter. Algal turf on the reef at Buffels Bay, Cape Peninsula, South Africa. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

2007. Accessed September 6, 2020.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Algal_turf_at_Buffels_Bay_DSC09790.JPG.

8. Southwood, Peter. Crustose coralline algae, South East Bay, Manawa Tawhi, Three Kings Islands. Photograph. Wikimedia

Commons. October 12, 2012. Accessed September 6, 2020

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crustose_coralline_algae,_South_East_Bay,_Three_Kings_Islands_PA121443.JPG.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chelmon_rostratus_Kupferstreifen-Pinzettfisch.jpg.

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2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napoleon-fish.jpg.

11. Gstudioimagen. Ecology Bulb. Photograph. Freepik. Accessed September 6,

2020.href=”https://www.freepik.com/vectors/abstract”>Abstract vector created by gstudioimagen – www.freepik.com.

12. Vikram, Jadhav. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients.

Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. June 5, 2017. Accessed September 6, 2020.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coral_reef_fish_swim_above_the_coral_slope.jpg.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maddie is currently in grade 9 at Hong Kong International School. She enjoys math, science, and also learning about the environment. In her free time she likes to play field hockey, swim and play tennis!

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