Corals join frogs and toads as the most endangered species on the Earth.
According to a recent Time.com article, a comprehensive survey by the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) published July 10th in Science, one-third of the more than 700 species of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction.
Why is this important?
Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of total marine species. Take out the corals, and there are no reefs — remove the reefs, and entire ecosystems collapse. Besides their beauty, reefs help protect coastal towns and other near-shore habitats from severe erosion and flooding caused by tropical storms.
“…reef-building corals are more at risk of extinction than all terrestrial groups, apart from amphibians, and are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” said Roger McManus, Conservation International’s vice president for marine programs. “The loss of the corals will have profound implications for millions of people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.”
Great Barrier Reef. NASA Satellite Photo.
What is causing this? (Or should we say who?)
Overfishing — divers catch tropical fish for food or to sell to pet stores using dynamite or poison to kill schools of fish, destroying the corals in the process.
Pollution — runoff from agriculture creates “dead zones” where nothing thrives.
Development — brings increased sewage, fishing and polluted runoff from the land.
Tourism — specimen collection, touching or walking on coral, accidental boat groundings and boat anchors damage sensitive coral polyps and coral.
Warmer ocean temperatures — can kill the algae that feed many coral, leading to “bleaching” of reefs, which in turn leaves the coral weakened and defenseless against disease.
Increased Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — leads to more acidic seas, which dissolve the reefs.
What can we do?
Curtail agricultural runoff
Cease destructive fishing practices
Expand marine reserves — national parks of the deep. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument protects 10% of the shallow coral reef habitat in U.S. territory.
“We either reduce our CO2 emission now or many corals will be lost forever,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Director General. “Improving water quality, global education and the adequate funding of local conservation practices also are essential to protect the foundation of beautiful and valuable coral reef ecosystems.”