How are coral reefs destroyed?

Coral Reefs are fascinating and mysterious ecosystems. They have been around for over five hundred million years and are considered the marine equivalent of tropical rainforests. Covering only 2% of the ocean bottom, they are the home to 25% of all marine species.

Unfortunately this underwater paradise is slowly being destroyed. Destructive actions such as the practice of uncontrolled, destructive fishing methods, oil spills, pollution (from domestic and industrial wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides), anchor damage, untreated or improperly treated sewage, and land runoffs are serious threats to the delicate reefs.

Fine sediment-like silt is also extremely harmful to corals. This kind of sediment clouds the water and cuts down the amount of light that reaches the coral. Without the right amount of light the Zooxanthellae in the corals are prevented from carrying out photosynthesis. The corals become smothered with a blanket of the sediment-like silt. This blanketing layer pampers the proper feeding patterns and gas exchange process naturally utilized by corals.

Corals are very sensitive and usually grow in waters that are very low in nutrients. Pollution of high nutrients usually kill the corals.This is do to the fact that in low nutrient water seaweed does not grow at the same rate as in high nutrient water. This permits corals to compete succesfully for space,light and food. If corals were to grow in high nutrient waters the seaweed will grow too fast and choke the sensitive and slow growing corals.

Another factor contributing to the deterioration of the Coral Reef is Global Warming. Global Warming causes significant temperature increases in waters in which corals inhabit. This rise in sea temperature creates a very stressful living enviroment for the coral reef. Coral Reefs respond to such stresses by ejecting necessary symbiotic Zooxanthellae within them.The Zooxanthellae are single celled photosynthetic organisms that provide vital nourishment to the coral. This ejection leads to a loss of pigmentation in the coral reef, this is known as coral bleaching

Where is our only living coral reef?

There is only one living coral reef in the Northern Hemisphere.It is located in the Florida Keys.To protect it, a plan was approved by the governor of Florida Lawton Chiles and the Florida Cabinet. Starting July 1,1997 the plan makes 19 small areas of the Keys off-limits to fishing. There will be safety rules to limit reckless boating, improve channel marking and greater protection of sea grass beds. It took a really long time to get the plan approved since it involved the Federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Enviromental groups, Key residents and county officials. Even though 55% of the Key residents voted against the plan, everyhting possible was done to approve the Marine sanctuary.

There is another issue involving the sanctuary now. The Government is planning to "test" shooting off missiles in the Florida Keys. The Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation say that there is nothing to worry about, the launches will be rigidly controlled and will cause no harm to the reef or humans. However, what would happen if by mistake a missile does not go or land where it is aimed ? Also exactly how much will the tremblin of the ground and the noise affect the coral reef? The launches are not going to begin until the Air Force completes an enviromental impact study and holds more hearings.

Suggestions concerning our reefs.

Even though a lot is beeing done to protect our coral reefs they are still in trouble, primarily from too many visitors. Various proposals to alleviate the situation have been made such as,

limit access: Limiting access to the coral reefs is a very good idea but it would be very difficult to enforce. Considering that anyone can access the parks at any time since they have entrances from all sides. This is nearly impossible to control.

rotate reefs: This proposal has never been tried. Giving it a try would mean that heavily impacted reefs would have to be closed for an indifinate time to give it time to recover while visitors visit other reefs wich might be smaller.The needed time to recover is unknown and these smaller reefs might not withsatand the pressure.

prohibit diving. Diving and snorkeling are two of the major factors contributing to the deterioration of the coral reef. These activities can be prohibited for several years until the coral reef recover.Glass bottom boats will stil be allowed to give tours of the reefs but only those which are part of the park. Other boats outside of the area will be prohibited to enter the park.

restrict diving: Experts strongly beleive that scuba diving and snorkeling are the activities that put the coral reefs to danger the most. Prohibiting private snorkeling and scuba diving would really help. Only allowing these activities to occur from dive boats where divers could be closely supervised. This can be a very effective solution.

close the parks: Fullclosure of the parks would be a very drastic step and should be considered only as a last resort. This step will be taken only if every other option fails.

None of the suggestions given concerning human contact on the reef will alleviate the problem if the problem of poluted water is not alleviated also. If all of us do not cooperate, soon there will not be reef to save. Time is running out.

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