Have you ever gone diving only to see your local reefs “bleached” out and damaged? Or heard you dive guides and divemasters lament the declination of the reef? Well, while it is commonly seen in popular dive locations there are things being done to combat it! Interest in local coral restoration has drastically increased in the passing years.
Coral Reef Destruction
As coastal construction increases and global temperatures rise, an estimated 33 percent of corals are in danger of extinction. Studies show an 80 percent decline in some forms of coral over the last decade. Coral reefs are the unseen backbones of the Earth’s ecosystem: With almost a quarter of sea life making their homes in coral reefs, coral reef health is key to a robust ecosystem. Coral reefs make up less than 1% of the ocean floor. But 25% of sea life make their homes on the reef. Think about that. 25% of the oceans animals live in less than 1% of it’s space! Many of the contributors to this kind of habitat destruction are preventable, but awareness on a massive scale is necessary to implement changes that will be long lasting.
Reef bleaching occurs when water conditions cause coral to expel the internal microorganisms that give corals their vibrant colors. Bleaching events happen due to a number of factors including an increase in water temperature. As global warming warms the planet, ocean water temperatures are also on the rise. With warmer waters, bleaching events have become more common and can even be seen here in Key Largo.
Water pollution is perhaps the most obvious cause of coral reef destruction. Reefs are harmed when oil, fertilizer, and waste are dumped in the area. Not only do these elements change the chemical make-up of the water, waste can also block life-giving sunlight to the reef. Large floating trash can cut young coral polyps off from nutrients they need to grow into a thriving reef.
Damage from Tourism
Much destruction of our coral reefs could easily be prevented if people were a bit more aware of how fragile the reef is. We sea-lovers can inadvertently cause a great deal of damage. A reef that can withstand a hurricane and it’s waves can be decimated by something so simple as touching the reef. The oils on our fingers can have dramatic impact on the reef. Touching can rob the coral of a protective membrane layer, causing it to get infected and die in entire sections. You can also cause damage in more obvious ways. If you stand on or kick the reef it will knock over and break sections of soft and hard corals.
Saving the Reefs
Don’t know what to do to help? There are many organizations that help restore our reefs! Locally here in Key Largo is the Coral Restoration Foundation which helps regrow and plant new healthy corals. You can easily get involved with this and other organizations. Donations are always welcome, but so are volunteers. CRF takes divers and trains them how to assist with regrowth and planting of hard corals. So you can become an ambassador to save the beautiful reefs for next generations!
Corals can grow and reproduce both sexually, through spawning, and asexually, through fragmentation: if a branch falls off on the reef and conditions are favorable, it can reattach and begin to grow a new colony. By collecting small branches or fragments from a colony and raising them in offshore nurseries, they can take advantage of this naturally occurring process also known as propagation. Then corals are grown in the nursery for approximately six to nine months. After they have reached a substantial size, they are tagged and taken to a carefully selected reef restoration site where they are attached directly to the reef using a non-toxic marine epoxy.
Sea of Change
Another organization that has a good track record of making improvements is Sea of Change Foundation. Focused on restoration and marine conservation, they look for industry related charities to partner with. And they are dedicated to marine conservation around the globe! This year, they started out with a bang funding the Cayman Islands Coral Nursery Program. Sea Of Change funded the trees, training and collection of corals to regrow the elk horn and stag horn corals that have been devastated in the Cayman Islands.
So don’t let the state of the coral now sadden you! You can directly impact the continued renewal of our coral reef. Tell your friends, get involved with restoration programs, donate–whatever you can! And get out diving and snorkeling to see just what the world below is like.