Although some scientists suggest that coral reefs are headed for certain doom, a new study by University of Florida and Caribbean has shown that even damaged reefs can recover, but immediate and consistent action is required.
Saving Coral Reefs
Corals are very sensitive to environmental conditions. Even slight warming and increased ocean acidification (two processes of which Earth has plenty of these days) can be devastating to them, and despite many efforts, damaged reefs could not be saved. But it’s not all bad news.
In a recently completed 13 year study in the Cayman Islands, researchers reported that bleaching and infectious diseases caused by ocean warming destroyed almost half of a the live coral cover from 1999 to 2004. But only seven years later, the amount of live coral on the reefs, the density of young colonies critical to the reefs’ future health, and the overall size of corals all had returned to the 1999 state.
Most of the area in the Cayman area is highly regulated. Damage from human activities such as fishing an anchoring is minimized.
“Nevertheless, all coral reefs, even those that are well-protected, suffer damage,” Jacoby said. “Little Cayman is an example of what can happen, because it is essentially free from local stresses due to its isolation, small human population and generally healthy ecology.”
So even with global warming and oceanic acidification, if all other human damage is minimized, recovery is possible. Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology, and Jacoby, a courtesy faculty member in UF’s Soil and Water Science Department, said the study shows even more reasons to protect coral reefs.
“There’s a debate over how resilient coral reefs are,” said Frazer, director of UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Some say it’s a lost cause. We believe there’s value in making sure coral reefs don’t die.”
The importance of coral reefs
The occupy less than 0.01 of the oceanic environment, but they host up to 25 percent of the different species of marine organisms, yield about 25 percent of the fish caught in developing nations and generate up to 30 percent of the export earnings in countries that promote reef-related tourism. Their safety value is huge, protecting coastal areas against tsunamis and threatening waves, and their environmental value is inestimable.
“In addition to saving the living organisms that make coral reefs their homes, safeguarding the habitats could ensure millions of dollars for the fishing and tourism industries, not to mention maintaining barriers that protect coastal areas and their human inhabitants from tropical storms,” Frazer said.
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