The health and restoration of coral reefs has been a large topic in the field of marine conservation. Through human activity and climate change, coral reefs have taken detrimental damage, posing a massive risk to the health of our oceans and the living beings that inhabit and benefit from it, including humans.

Why are coral reefs so important?

 Why are coral reefs important? According to Pew Trusts, coral reefs support 25% of all marine species, and are biodiversity hotspots, allowing for species to seek shelter, reproduce, feed, and nurse their young. They make up less than 1% of the ocean floor, but, as previously stated, support 25% of all marine species (Razek, 3). On top of this, the corals themselves are living organisms and play a large role in their ecosystems, and damages done to these reefs harm them as well. According to NOAA, coral reefs benefit more species per unit than any other marine environment, housing around 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals, and hundreds of other aquatic species (NOAA, 1). This is not even including the millions of undiscovered species that may be living within these biodiversity epicenters. These reefs also bring about many benefits for humans as well. According to NOAA, they play an imperative role in keeping up both commercial and subsistence fisheries, as well as countless jobs in the recreation and tourism sector. These reefs are invaluable to the function of fisheries, which bring in large amounts of income and food. Many countries also depend on these reefs for tourism, as they bring about many visitors, recreational opportunities, and hotels, which in turn helps maintain their economy. They not only are imperative for both resources and income, but they also protect us from natural disasters. NOAA goes on to state that they buffer 97% of energy from waves, storms, and floods, making them invaluable in the protection of life, communities, as well as the prevention of erosion (NOAA, 3). Without these reefs, coastal communities would find themselves far more exposed to the devastating effects of these disasters. Reefs face many dangers such as pollution, disease and habitat destruction, all of which will be covered further later in this article. Essentially without these reefs, we would see massive losses in biodiversity and natural habitats, blows to natural food chains and ecosystems, as well as detrimental blows to fisheries, a key source of food and income, tourism, which is essential for the economy in many countries, as well as an increase in threats to coastal communities.





 How are they threatened?

 What threats do coral reefs face? How have they been damaged? NOAA provides further information on how coral reefs have become under danger from human activity. Pollution, overfishing, harmful fishing habits, the collection of corals, the mining of coral, as well as climate change, are all vectors of damage for these reefs. Land-based runoff, pollutant discharges, leaking fuels, paints, and chemicals, are all human-based sources that can harm the ocean’s reefs. Additionally, if there is an oil spill during a coral’s spawning process, the eggs and sperm will also be harmed. The collection of corals for sales purposes can also prove detrimental to these reefs. NOAA also states that many fishing practices can also prove detrimental, such as blast fishing and cyanide fishing. The practice of deep water trawling, which involves the dragging of large nets along the sea bottom. These nets can be left as debris in the reefs, and can result in the corals being tangled. The reefs are also impacted by weighted bags, startling and scaring life out of their habitats within these said reefs. Finally, the effects of climate change can result in coral bleaching, which can severely harm the corals. Greenhouse gasses that are emitted from human activity can lead to this effect, as an increase in their presence causes global warming, which in turns also warms the oceans, bleaching the corals.

 The state of coral reefs in Costa Rica and Latin America

 One may also ask: how are coral reefs faring in Costa Rica and Latin America? The Latin American region as a whole is a haven for biodiversity and habitats. According to the Costa Rica International Academy, Costa Rica is home to an impressive number of almost 7,000 different marine species (CRIA, 2). The LAC region, or Latin America and the Caribbean, host 10% of the world’s coral reefs (Climate Champions, 1). These reefs are home to countless species, as stated earlier, 25% of all marine species live in coral reefs around the globe. The coral reefs in Latin America are epicenters of life. Matter of fact, according to the NRDC, Latin America is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. That being said, it is imperative that these centers of life are protected. EarthJustice.org states that 93% of the reefs in Costa Rica are in danger, and that tourism is a large factor (Cossio, 3). Unsustainable tourism is a whole issue in of itself, as large amounts of human intrusion can have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems. Sedimentation from human activity threatens the pacific coral reefs of Costa Rica. Looking at Latin America as a whole, 50% of all coral reefs in Latin America are at risk of degradation in the next five to ten years (Cossio, 7). Coral bleaching also threatens the reefs of this region. According to the Tico Times, rising ocean temperatures from climate change exacerbate the effects of El Nino events, which is a natural warm period in the waters of the Pacific. As ocean temperatures rise, El Nino only gets warmer, therefore leading to coral bleaching.

 

Government Action

 There has been action from the world’s governments to protect our oceans. These actions have both pros and cons. According to Royal Museums Greenwich, Marine Protected Areas have been developed to counter the damage and overuse of our oceans. Just like within national parks, these areas are limited to human activity and industry. Marine Protected Areas require the limitation of drilling, fishing, and diving. They have been established with the central idea that aquatic animals, plants, and habitats are protected from detrimental human activities. These areas are protected by laws, regulations, voluntary agreements, and codes of conduct . However, these areas do have their pitfalls. According to Mind the Gap: Addressing the Shortcomings of Marine Protected Areas Through Large Scale Marine Spatial Planning, a journal within ScienceDirect, there are multiple fields where marine protected areas fall short. They may be too small to be ecologically sufficient, inappropriately managed or planned, fail due to degradation of unprotected surrounding ecosystems, and may do more harm than good due to displacement and unintended consequences of management.

Summary

 The takeaway? Coral reefs are essential for not only a countless number of marine species and the overall health of our world’s ocean ecosystems, but they also bring a fruitful amount of benefits for humans. These priceless areas are at danger from the harmful consequences of human activity, and it is imperative that they are protected and taken care of.

Written by Michael Basharis 

References:

https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2022/12/06/6-reasons-coral-reefs-deserve-protection

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_corals/coral07_importance.html

https://criacademy.com/costa-rica-marine-life-4-types-of-underwater-wonders/#:~:text=In%20point%20of%20fact%2C%20nearly,country%20smaller%20than%20West%20Virginia.

https://climatechampions.unfccc.int/ocean-breakthroughs-latin-america-caribbean-ocean-based-climate-action/#:~:text=The%20region%20is%20home%20to,its%20largest%20expanse%20of%20wetlands.

https://www.nrdc.org/bio/jessica-carey-webb/latin-americas-biodiversity-critical-global-goals

https://earthjustice.org/article/coral-reefs-and-the-unintended-impact-of-tourism

https://ticotimes.net/2023/08/20/costa-ricas-coral-reefs-in-peril-as-temperatures-rise

https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/our-ocean-our-planet/what-is-30×30-marine-protected-areas-ocean-2030

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308597X10001740#:~:text=MPA%20shortcomings%20are%20categorized%20as,more%20harm%20than%20good%20due

 

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