Saturday, 21 July 2012
CARING FOR THE CORAL REEFS
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Coral reefs form living sea beds that support rich ecosystems. they are of immense value to wildlife and people, but come under pressure from many threats - mostly initiated by man.
The worldwide pressure on coral reefs demands effective conservation. Some elements of reef conservation are fairly straightforward to put into place, while others need a high degree of international cooperation and legislation.
Many countries, recognising the importance of reefs, have made them nature reserves. There are around 300 protected reef areas in over 60 countries. The good management of reefs is a key factor in their conservation. If fishing and recreation are carefully controlled and some areas kept free of disturbance as sanctuary areas the reef can be used and enjoyed in a way which does no harm.
The problems of siltation, pollution and global warming are not solved by making reefs nature reserves. They need international action and cooperation on controlling our harmful activities.
Individuals can help reefs, especially by refusing to buy souvenirs made from reef wildlife. Marine aquarium fish should not be taken from the reefs but bought captive breed.
Direct threats to the reef
Coral is mined for the construction industry in many parts of the world. Mining can ruin the structure of the reef, with further unwelcome side effects. In Sri Lanka immense damage has occurred where coral has been mined for its limestone. With the protective reefs gone, the sea has washed away beaches and roads.
Coastal building work itself can threaten coral reefs. Clearance, infilling and construction work can cloud the water, alter water circulation patterns and physically damage the reef structure.
Overfishing has had a damaging effect on many reefs, depleting stocks of valuable food species such as fish and lobsters. fishing can cause damage when traps are laid directly on the coral, when reefs are beaten to scare fish into nets or when explosives are used to stun fish.
Corals are taken to be sold as souvenirs, as are shells. reef fish, many of which are very attractive, are taken for the marine aquarium trade. Litter, damage from shipping, collection of corals and trampling are all problems caused by excessive recreational use of reefs.
Damage from a distance
Siltation can affect the delicate coral reef. when silt is washed off the land into the sea and carried to a coral reef it can cloud the water, reducing the light that reaches the plant life of the reef; even affecting the algae that live inside the coral reef itself.
Pollution can pose a serious threat. Pesticides and industrial waste can poison reef animals and plants. Sewage effluent and fertiliser run off from agricultural land can cause blooms (excessive growths) of algae. Algal blooms, fed by plant nutrients in the pollution, are often accompanied by depletion of the dissolved oxygen that is vital for reef wildlife.
On the Caribbean island of Aruba, for example, a reef next to an oil refinery has suffered pollution for many years and is gradually being destroyed.
Siltation and pollution can stress corals and other reef building species such as hard red algae and make a reef more vulnerable to disease, storm damage and reef boring creatures such as sea urchins. Corals suffering from serious oil pollution have been shown to fail to grow back again.
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