Coral reefs lie along tropical coastlines. They are rich in biodiversity with an abundance of marine life. Coral reefs are sensitive to changes. They need a salty, warm environment between 68° and 82° F. They need to be constantly churned by waves to shower them with the organic debris they require for food and to stir up the oxygen they need. The waves also keep sand from building up on their tissues as coral is an animal that is anchored to the sea floor and cannot survive if buried in sand.
Coral has a symbiotic relationship with a single-celled algae called zooxanthellae, which lives in the coral tissue itself. Coral provides the algae with a safe place to live and grow. Zooxanthellae, in turn, provides food and oxygen to the coral, while taking up the carbon dioxide that the coral releases. Zooxanthellae gives coral its many pretty colors. Like the coral in which it lives, zooxanthellae is very sensitive to changes in its environment. A violent storm, that causes water temperature changes or an increase in wave churning, can hurt the coral and the algae. If the zooxanthellae dies, the coral loses its pretty colors. This is called coral bleaching. It is a sign of an unhealthy coral reef. The fish and other reef animals will abandon damaged coral over time. If the bleaching is not too bad, the coral can recover, but ongoing stress will cause coral death.
Why are coral reefs important to humans? Coral reefs have extensive biodiversity – they support more species than any other marine environment on the planet. Biologists believe that coral reefs are part of the life cycles of more than half of all the marine fish species that humans depend on for food. Coral reefs support local economies through tourism – not just with snorkeling, boating and fishing on the reefs, but with the hotels, restaurants and other related businesses they boost. Coral reefs protect valuable coastal shorelines from erosion and storm surges. They are also stunning habitats that delight and inspire human visitors ever day. Even knowing the tremendous value of coral reefs, humans cause serious and ongoing damage to these fragile ecosystems through overuse, pollution and general habitat damage and loss. What can we do to mitigate the damage we inflict on coral reefs?
Our coral reefs are in trouble. Poachers harvest the colorful corals and fish to sell to collectors. Boaters dump trash or dirty water (bilge) too close to reefs and sometimes anchor on the fragile coral itself. Snorkelers walk on the fragile coral and use dish soap to rinse out scuba masks right in the water (to reduce fogging), exposing reef species to harmful detergents. Excessive tourism can also affect the normal feeding and reproduction of species on coral reefs. What can do to protect this vital habitat?
Research if there has been any legislation passed to protect coral reefs. Suggest some regulations, conservation, and educational options, etc, that might help with coral reef protection. Consider how any conservation plan might affect tourist businesses (e.g. Suggesting that we halt all tourist trips to coral reefs is probably not reasonable.). How will you implement your plan? Take some notes below, then write up a proposal or letter to the editor or your legislator or develop an educational poster, brochure, etc. or create an educational meme for social media.
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Amsel, Sheri. "Protecting Coral Reefs Reading and Design a Solution " Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2023. December 8, 2023
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