When you put on a snorkelling mask and swim around in the warm water, not only can you see fish of many colours swimming, but also all kinds of plants and tiny animals. You are actually visiting an underwater neighbourhood that has been around for more than 200 million years, called coral reefs. They are large structures created when coral polyps and algae grow together, and are the homes that 25% of all marine life live in. Corals need sunlight to grow, so they can be found no deeper than 14 metres and often grow in tropical seas where water is warmer and clearer.
Coral reefs are very important because they help protect wildlife by creating a safe habitat for many types of fish and rare plants. The warm water around them acts as a shelter for eggs and keeps them safe from predators, making coral reefs important habitats for fish and other sea creatures to mate.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are very endangered, which means that they could die out completely if we don’t protect them.
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Why are Coral Reefs Endangered?
Despite their importance, coral reefs are slowly being destroyed by pollution, overfishing, ocean acidification, warming waters and physical destruction by humans. Tourists damage reefs by touching them, stepping on them or bumping into them with their boats.
When water gets warmer, corals will dispose of the algae living in their tissues, causing corals to turn completely white. This is known as coral bleaching. Normally, when a coral bleaches, it is not dead, but when they are put under more stress, they may die. Over the past five years, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has suffered three massive bleaching events, and coral reefs around the world are facing similar futures. A global temperature rise of 2°C would eliminate 99% of today’s reefs.
How Can We Save Them?
Scientists are finding ways to protect and even revive corals. One option is by creating more marine-protected areas. In these areas, activities like fishing and mining are not allowed.
We should put rubbish into bins properly so that it is not blown or washed away into waterways and oceans. Plastic pollutes ocean waters and harms coral reefs and other sea life. We could join or organise a beach clean-up. We should actively support and join organisations that work to protect coral reefs, oceans, lakes and other waters.
Emissions from vehicles lead to ocean acidification and increased water temperatures. More acidic ocean water disturbs coral growth. We should walk and bike more often.
Finally, you can raise awareness by telling your friends and family about the importance of corals and the dangers they face.
Since they grow at such a slow rate, corals are breaking down faster than they can be repaired. Without these interventions, scientists say the Earth’s coral reefs as we know them could disappear before the next century. The world needs us more than ever. We must join hands and act now before it’s too late.