Importance of Coral Reefs

he importance of coral reefs, one of the most precious marine habitat, needs to be highlighted in the scenario of increasing threats of global warming, so that timely action can be taken to maintain the ecological balance of aquatic life.
If you frequently watch Discovery channel or the National Geographic channel, you would have seen the mystic world in the oceans and sea. The world under the sea is beautiful and mesmerizing. It's a totally different world, containing innumerable marine habitat and sustaining life of colorful aquatic animals. Wish if I could be a sea diver someday and could dive into the sea to watch this spectacular miracle of mother Nature!! Anyway, as we all are connected by Nature, the marine life contributes significantly in maintaining the Earth's ecological balance. One of the major habitats of aquatic life are the coral reefs. The ecological importance of coral reefs has been discussed in the following paragraphs.

What are Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are often hailed as the rainforests of the sea and for anyone, who doesn't have much knowledge or awareness about zoology or biology subjects, coral reefs can be termed as a type of living, marine organisms which secrete calcium carbonate, over a long period of time, to form a hard outer skeletal covering. Did you get it? No? Well, many people assume coral reefs to be plants or rocks, however they are the polyps who grow along in large groups and in large areas. Now, if you know something about zoology, then you'll understand that polyps are tiny, cylindrical marine habitats. For layman, coral reefs can be best understood to be a group of polyps that grow together. Similar to shellfish, they're invertebrates and have no internal bones. Coral reefs can reproduce either sexually or asexually. Fringing reefs, barrier reefs and coral atolls are the three main types of coral reefs. Now, without going much into the technical details of what are coral reefs, let's understand the importance of coral reefs as their life is important for the Earth's survival.

Why are Coral Reefs Important?

Not only do coral reefs make their own ecosystem, many other organisms also depend on coral reefs for life and shelter. Humans, too can't survive without an ecosystem.

Sustaining Tropical Marine Ecosystems
Coral reefs form an important part of the tropical marine biology. The coral reefs maintain a balance of life with the mangrove and sea grass ecosystems near the coastal shores. Many marine creatures spend their lives in moving from mangrove ecosystems to sea grass beds and then coral reefs, thereby transferring nutrients and connecting life. Mangrove trees are known to grow to a height of 15 meters and their roots are always in proximity to the shores. The root systems serve as a source of underground water ecosystem for marine animals. Sea grass beds are found in totally shallow bays. The coral reefs lying at the bottom, protect the mangrove trees and sea grass beds from erosion by the waves.

Primary Producers
In the 'circle of life', humans along with every other organism plays a significant role, coral reefs aren't an exception. According to biologists, primary productivity is described as the storing of organic and inorganic compounds by the process of photosynthesis. Like trees and plants are known to reduce our carbon levels, corals also help in reducing the effects of CO2. Coral reefs support the food chain by being a food for tropical fish and other marine animals that serve as food for animals, higher in the food chain. This maintains the balance of the ecosystem.

I'm so much in awe and love with the beauty of the coral reefs, that I'm afraid to include tourism as an importance of coral reefs. For the hearts of men are corrupt and it has depleted Nature innumerable times in the name of tourism. Nonetheless, coral reef destinations are recognized as the biggest tourist attractions, especially on islands like Maldives and Jamaica who totally depend on coral reefs for their economy. Not surprising that the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the world's largest coral reef ecosystem (do visit it, if you ever get a chance to go Australia!) garners a USD 1 billion profit from it. Thanks to the UN, it has been declared a World's Heritage Site and so, it is preserved and taken care of. Though coral reef tourism is believed to be an alternative source of income for the poor coastal communities, none can guarantee how long will the poor countries be able to preserve these beautiful sites.

Coastal Protection
The disastrous hurricanes and tsunamis that sweep off life and property, in the blink of an eye, are lessened in their impact by coral reefs. Yes, coral reefs are known to break the power of waves and reduce their intensity, thereby protecting coastal areas from destruction. Coral reefs can be called nature's defense mechanism to prevent coastal soil erosion and flooding.

The fishing industry and the common income source for the fishermen in the coastal areas is heavily dependent on the coral reefs. The coral reefs provide shelter, nutrition and habitat to almost a quarter of the world's fish!! Think how valuable is this contribution when it comes to the national, international and local fisheries market.

Medicinal Research
A major breakthrough in the treatment of HIV infections is the medicine AZT that is based on the chemicals found in sponge reefs in the Caribbean and it highlights the potential of medicinal value of coral reefs. Pharmaceutical companies have targeted coral reefs for medicines on cancer and other terminal diseases.

Cultural Significance
If you've watched the recent Oscar nominated movie Avatar, then you must have got the message of the movie; 'Men, enough of greed, stop exploring other lives just for some parochial needs, let life sustain, in what form it is, no matter wherever it is'. Just like people worshiped trees in the movie, coral reefs are worshiped as life sustaining organisms in innumerable cultures around the world. Most significant are the islands of Fiji, where coral reefs and their waters are thanked through ceremonies and prayers. In Fiji, the traditional reef management system has worked wonders and has sustained marine habitat ever since its existence. For Fiji, coral reefs are a symbol of life and reverence and same is true for many other cultures around the world!!

Threats to Coral Reefs

While efforts to develop artificial coral reefs are appreciated in many parts of the world, the problems that are faced by the coral reefs need timely response from the human fraternity. The threats to coral reefs are as follows
Rising sea water temperature owing to global warming causes "bleaching" of the coral reefs and ultimately their death.
Unchecked coastal development leading to "stress" on coral reef habitat.
Sea pollution destroying the agility and lives of coral reefs.
Over fishing and poor fishing practices damaging the balance of underwater ecosystems.
Natural events in the forms of hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis.
Uncontrolled and improper diving practices in oceanic regions.
You may
Coral Reefs: Plants and Animals
Saving the Coral and the Coral Reefs
The importance of reefs is nowadays increasingly highlighted in newspapers and science journals and people are becoming aware of the crucial role they play in our lives. At an individual level, at least, we should try to make people aware of the importance of coral reefs and must make certain changes in our lifestyle that helps in significantly reducing global warming affects. That's the least, we can do for saving our planet. Hope, this article gave you a brief insight into the importance of coral reefs.

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