I read a report about Indonesia’s Coral reefs dying at an alarmingly fast rate last week. The news report from The Guardian UK said that the coral which had survived the 2004 Tsunami and its aftermath whre dying at one of the fastest rates ever recorded due to the dramatic rise in water temperature in North western Indonesia.
Teams of Marine biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society noticed that the water temperatures in the Andaman sea had risen by 7°F to 93°F over long term averages. They also noticed massive bleaching of coral which occurs when algae living inside coral tissues are expelled.
What are Coral Reefs?
Coral Reefs are structures made of calcium carbonate which are secreted by the tiny animals which call the reefs their home “the Coral”. Each coral reef is made up of millions of individual polyps which form hard skeletons or protective coverings for the organism inside and is constructed over generations. When a polyp dies another one grows on top of the empty shell. Corals are marine organisms.
Coral reefs are considered the tropical forests of the sea because of the biodiversity in its eco system. Coral reefs cover just about 1% of the all the world’s Ocean surface, but provides home to 25% of all sea-life.
Interesting Coral facts:
- There are almost 500 different kinds of Corals.
- Corals are primarily nocturnal.
- Corals feed on planktons and use their tentacles to capture plankton or small fish.
- Coral reefs grow about half an inch a year! Imagine how long it would have taken for the reefs we see around to grow!
- Coral reefs grow best in Sunny, shallow clear water.
- Coral reefs are of 3 kinds: Fringing Reefs – grow continuously with the shore, Barrier reefs- Separated from the shore by a deep lagoon, and Atolls, which are reefs which surround a lagoon.
- Corals live with the algae zooxanthellae
- Coral reefs are home to fishes and mollusks which would not survive without the coral reef.
- Coral reefs control the amount of carbon dioxide in the Ocean waters by acting like a filter.
- Coral reefs protect shores from strong currents and waves before they hit the shore.
- 10% of all the world’s coral reefs are already destroyed.
- Philippines is where the destruction is worse and more that 70% of its coral reefs are destroyed and only 5%is said to be in good condition.
- Corals have growth rings like trees which can help one understand how long it has been around.
- The majority of reef building corals are found within tropical and subtropical waters. These typically occur between 300 north and 300 south latitudes. The red dots on this map show the location of major stony coral reefs of the world.
- The diversity of coral is far greater in the Indo-Pacific, particularly around Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. Many other groups of marine fauna show similar patterns, with a much greater diversity in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Although they possess a smaller number of species the corals of the Atlantic are still unique, with few common species between the two regions .
What are the problems facing Corals?
Like what I mentioned in the beginning the warming temperatures are destructive to corals, so is pollution, over fishing, habitat destruction etc… The worse kind of fishing habit was the use of explosives to blow up a coral reef to catch the maximum number of fishes at one shot, which also killed many other animals and left the survivors homeless with a destroyed coral reef.
Even a single degree rise or fall in temperature has shown significant impact on corals. The Pollution associated with the huge urban areas and their waste is another major cause of concern as the silting destroys the coral.
What is being done?
- Educating the governments and the people who live off the ocean on sustainable fishing practices
- Making people aware of the importance of survival of the coral reefs,
- Encouraging governments to reduce the pollution in the oceans and
- Taking steps to fight global warming.
- Educating and encouraging tourists to be careful while out in the ocean among coral reefs etc…
Some of the Groups which are active in protecting the coral reefs are:
Indonesia’s Coral Reefs
Sea surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea—an area that includes the coasts of Myanmar, Thailand, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and northwestern Indonesia—have been on the rise. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Hotspots website, temperatures in the region peaked in late May, when the temperature reached 34 degrees Celsius. This represents a dramatic 4-degree rise over the long-term averages for the area.
“It’s a disappointing development, particularly in light of the fact that these same corals proved resilient to other disruptions to this ecosystem, including the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004,” said WCS-Indonesia Marine Program Director Dr. Stuart Campbell.
WCS and JCU have been working in the region since March 2005. Surveys conducted in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 revealed that the many reefs of Aceh were largely unaffected by this massive disturbance. Indeed, reefs severely damaged by poor land use and destructive fishing prior to the tsunami had recovered dramatically in the intervening years due to improved management by local governments and communities. But the recent bleaching and mortality will have a profound effect on reef fisheries.
Of particular concern is the scale of the sea surface temperature anomaly, which the NOAA website indicates has affected the entire Andaman Sea and beyond. Similar mass bleaching events in 2010 have now been recorded in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and many parts of Indonesia.
“This is a tragedy not only for some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, but also for people in the region, many of whom are extremely impoverished and depend on these reefs for their food and livelihoods,” said WCS-Marine Program Director Dr. Caleb McClennen. “It is another unfortunate reminder that international efforts to curb the causes and effects of climate change must be made if these sensitive ecosystems and the vulnerable human communities around the world that depend on them are to adapt and endure.”
We will have to wait and see what will happen.
Wrapping up with a quote from president Clinton said ” Pollution, overfishing, and overuse have put many of our unique reefs at risk. Their disappearance would destroy the habitat of countless species. It would unravel the web of marine life that holds the potential for new chemicals, new medicines, unlocking new mysteries. It would have a devastating effect on the coastal communities from Cairns to Key West, Florida — communities whose livelihood depends upon the reefs.”