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  • Writer's pictureMohit Chandak

Corals and the Great Barrier Reef

Coral reefs are one of the true wonders of the world, remarkable ecosystems in their own right; living, breathing animals (yes they are animals!) that are an incredibly important part of our natural world. Around 25% of marine life rely on coral reefs. Currently, coral reefs cover more than 284,000 sq km, mostly in the warmer equatorial waters of the Red Sea, The Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

What to expect today:

  • What are Coral Reefs?

  • Reef Recovery 2030 Initiative

What are coral reefs?

Image Source: Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

Coral reefs are large underwater structures composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral. Coral reefs can be found in tropical destinations around the world. More than 100 countries have a coral reef within their borders, and over half of the world’s coral reefs are found within six countries: Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and the Maldives.

Image Source: Coral Reef Alliance - shows the areas where coral reefs are found

Coral reefs are home to:

  • 4,000 species of reef fish

  • 840 species of corals

  • Over 1 million species of other animals

Reefs provide a large fraction of Earth’s biodiversity—they have been called “the rain forests of the seas.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates the net economic value of the world’s coral reefs to be tens of billions of US dollars per year, by contributing to tourism and fishing and marine industries.

How coral reefs help in balancing the ecosystem?

  • Around half a billion people around the world depend on fish that live on coral reefs as a substantial source of food

  • Coral reefs act as natural buffers against storms and waves that can erode coasts and damage property or threaten lives

  • Coral reefs help keep our near shore waters clean from pollution

  • Coral reefs also have a hand in building our beaches. In fact, much of the sand on many beaches is the product of broken-down coral skeletons

Threat from Climate Change

Healthy corals depend on microscopic algae that live in their tissues and are the coral’s main food source, and give coral their color. When bleaching occurs – usually due to increased sea temperatures – the algae leave the coral, leaving it white or pale and more susceptible to disease. At 1.5°C of warming, which the world is predicted to reach in the early 2030s without drastic action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, 99% of the world’s reefs will experience heat waves that are too frequent for them to recover. Between 2014 and 2017, an unprecedented bleaching took place, which affected more than 75 percent of the world’s tropical reefs. Corals live in a specified temperature range and if the oceans get too warm, it can even cause the death of the corals. Reefs also have a role to play when it comes to reducing emissions. While reefs are not a net absorber of CO2, they have a vital role to play. UNEP’s report on corals, published at the start of October, revealed the loss of 14 percent of the world’s coral since 2009.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Image Source: Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was established in 1999 following the first mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier and is currently the lead charity dedicated to protecting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef through funding solutions grounded in science, technology, engineering and on-ground action to ensure its long-term conservation.

Threats and current state of The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along Australia’s northeastern coast, a spine of 3,800 reefs and atolls arcing through the Coral Sea. Together, they form the largest living structure on Earth. Due to widespread deforestation in the area, there are no tree roots to secure the topsoil, due to which widespread erosion follows. Northern Australia’s rains wash an estimated 17 million tonnes of sediment each year into the rivers and, eventually, out onto the Great Barrier Reef.

However, the biggest threat of all is climate change, which causes coral bleaching and ocean acidification. The Great Barrier Reef is estimated to have lost over 50% of its corals since 1995 and as global warming continues, this number will continue to increase exponentially. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, current approaches are just not enough to protect the world’s coral reefs.The Australian Government’s Reef 2050 plan outlines targets for an 80 percent reduction in river nutrient loads by 2025.

Reef Recovery 2030 initiative

Reef Recovery 2030 is a landmark campaign dedicated to saving the Great Barrier Reef and supporting global coral reef conservation. The steps under this initiative include:

  • Improve water quality - reducing pollution from land based run-off

  • Act on climate - reducing emissions and storing carbon

  • Restore reef islands and coasts - restoring critical habitat and coastal ecosystems

  • Restore degraded reefs - promoting recovery of degraded reefs

  • Adapt - strengthening corals' tolerance to climate change

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is the world’s largest and most ambitious effort to develop, test and deploy at-scale protection, restoration and adaptation interventions for coral reefs globally. Donate here if you would like to contribute.

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