Last Updated 21 Dec 2022

The Disturbance and Degradation of Coral Reefs in the Ocean Due to Human Intervention

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Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful places on earth They have often been called the “rainforests of the ocean,” due to their extreme biodiversity, Coral is the keystone species of the coral reef biome, and it is one of the most sensitive organisms in the ocean “Corals live in very nutrient poor waters and have certain zones of tolerance to water temperature, salinity, UV radiation, opacity, and nutrient quantities” (Buchheim). Due to the fact that these organisms are so sensitive to the factors around them, any sort of human disturbance can often lead to degradation of said ecosystems, These disturbances take form of three different problems; coral bleaching (ocean acidification), pollution, and overfishing. According to Roger Bradbury, “Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion. Each of those forces alone is fully capable of causing the global collapse of coral reefs; together, they assure it”

Furthermore the degradation of coral reefs is starting to majorly affect humans in many areas, including increased pollution, economic failures, and increased mortality rates with lower health quality. Pollution is an issue that all humans will face, if coral reefs keep degrading the way they are. Animals and coral reefs work in unison with the ocean as a natural carbon sink. Unfortunately, due to high amounts of acidification and rising emissions, the ocean is unable to keep up on demands. “Acidification is a concern for sea life—for the atmosphere, it's a good thing our oceans are absorbing so much carbon, but as the oceans acidify, it'll affect [coral reefs and shellfish], and work its way up the food chain” (Koebler, pan 9) If said acidification works its way up the food chain, humans end up with health problems, and increased pollution, on top of what they already have, because there will be nothing to protect them from their own waste.

The large diversity of plants and animals in the coral reefs also allow for the ocean to absorb extra C02 via these organisms. Due to the fact that “...Lhe variety of species living on coral reefs is greater than almost anywhere else in the world" (Coral Reef Alliance, pan 3), degradation of this particular ecosystem spells disaster for the human race These variety of species are the barrier between us and the very emissions humans intoxicate them with. “Although molecular nitrogen (N2), a type of macronutrient, is abundant in the atmosphere and ocean, few marine organisms can utilise nitrogen in this form, Coral associated bacteria, such as the photosynthetic cyanobacteria, are one of the few marine organisms that are able to take molecular nitrogen (N2) from the water and convert or ‘fix’ it to produce more usable products such as ammonia (NI-I3), ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NOB-)...” (Endangered Species International pari 3)

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As a result of organisms like these, humans can sit in their air conditioned gas guzzlers, but for how much longer? Economic Failure is another problem that would be created if the degradation of coral reefs continues in the direction that it is headed, Many small towns and businesses rely on the byproducts of coral reefs “By one estimate, coral reefs provide economic goods and ecosystem services worth about $375 billion each year to millions of people” (Coral Reef Alliance, par. 4). This is a number on par with many industrial businesses and other resource pools that humans use, such as oil and minerals Fish are also worth large amounts of money to places that rely on it. “A full—grown coral-reef fish is worth around $10 on a plate in a restaurant. Indeed, if delivered alive to the fancier sort of restaurant (one that allows its customers to pick their dinner from a selection swimming in a tank) it may be worth as much as $100.

Even allowing for generous markups by the middlemen, fisherfolk from developing countries can earn a great deal of money this way" (Vernon) Without coral reefs, the smaller towns would not contribute, and the common people make up the economy One particular town in the Philippines, a province of the USA, helps keep its economy afloat through the use of ecotourism, “The striking abundance and diversity of fish and other marine animals (eg, turtles and sea snakes) around the island have attracted coral reef tourism (Cadiz and Calumpong 2000) The island has two small hotels and a dive shop, which employ several dozen island residents, In addition, diving tour boats come daily from the nearby mainland. A few island households take tourists as boarders, and some of the women have tourist related jobs such as catering for the hotels or hawking Apo Island T-shirts. The island government collects a snorkeling/diving fee, which has been used to finance a diesel generator that supplies electricity to every house in the island's main village during the evening.

The tourist fees have also financed substantial improvements for the island‘s elementary school, garbage collection for disposal at a landfill on the mainland, and improvements in water supply” (Marten, pan 14). Without coral reefs, due to the degradation rate as it currently is, people will lose the economy, and many small towns like these will perish. Increased health risks and mortality rates are also associated with the effects of a degrading coral reef biome. “Several important drugs have already been developed from chemicals found in coral reef organisms” (Coral Reef Alliance par. 2) One can easily tell that not only drugs, but other important ingredients to the medicinal field will be continuously developed. This cannot happen however, if there are no coral reefs for humans to get materials from, meaning that medicines will never be developed, and people whose deaths could have prevented won’t be.

Coral reefs also provide us with a large amount of protection from flooding and hurricanes “Coral reefs provide shoreline protection by buffering wave energy and reducing coastal erosion. When corals bleach, they are weakened and break up more easily when wave energy is higher, thus minimizing their buffering capacity" (The Nature Conservancy par. 2), Coral Reefs also have certain portions of the biome devoted to fish nurseries, in a part that is known as a mangrove. The mangrove buffers against waves and flooding due to its deeply rooted trees and thick above water density, keeping thousands of people from being killed by flooding or winds. Finally, “Coral reefs are also a significant source of protein for millions of people”. This means that without coral reefs, many people would be exposed to protein deficiency problems that they would otherwise not have to worry about.

Mortality rates go up, the number of sickly escalates, and the human race would have a large problem on their hands, Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful places on earth, and they provide the world with an abundant amount of resources> but they are fragile If the human race is to prevent the degradation and the effects of it, then they must realize their mistakes, Otherwise, they will start to majorly be affected by problems such as increased pollution, economies failing, and increased health risks/mortality ratesr Acidification, overfishing, and pollution must be stopped before it is too late, these effects are already taking hold over various things Who knows, maybe in thirty years, the cure to cancer will be discovered from a coral reef, or maybe a coastal town will catch a fish never seen before by the scientific community The world will never know, however, if the problem is not fixed.

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