Coral Reefs | Earth Day Network

Coral Reefs

Facts

  • Corals are animals not plants. Their closest relatives are jelly fish and anemones.
  • Coral reefs are found in more than 100 countries around the world, covering close to 110,000 square miles worldwide,[1] but are typically located in tropical and subtropical waters near the surface and sunlight.
  • Coral reefs support an extraordinarily broad set of marine species and play a critical role in feeding and sheltering these species, and in sheltering the offspring of large fish species until they can fend for themselves.
  • The world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is home to 1,500 species of fish including sharks and rays, as well as many different species of hard coral, soft coral, and various marine mammals.[2]
  • Coral reefs’ ability to support this impressive biodiversity was not created overnight. Corals are ancient animals with origins dating back hundreds of thousands of years.

Why They Matter

  • Twenty-five percent of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, and close to sixty-five percent of coral reefs are under serious threat.
  • Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all marine life on the planet and are located across the globe, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Just one reef has the capability to house thousands of different species.[3]
  • Plants and animals that call coral reefs home are critical sources of new medicines, including those for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. (NOAA)
  • Coral reefs play a major role in industries ranging from eco-tourism to fisheries. They also protect shorelines from storms which are increasing in intensity every year due to climate change.
  • Coral reefs provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than a half billion people rely on coral reefs for jobs, protection against storms, and other benefits. Coral reefs are worth $9.9 trillion dollars to the global economy.[4]

Threats

  • Global warming is having a large impact on coral reefs because reefs are very sensitive to changes in water temperatures along with decreases in pH, or ocean water acidification. These changes are bleaching and killing our coral reefs.[5]
  • Coral reefs are threatened by other pollutants as well including those from agriculture and untreated sewage which allows bacteria and chemicals to reach coral reefs.
  • Overfishing, which includes the use of dynamite and other explosives used to kill fish, upsets the balance of marine life on the reef. Fishnets, plastics and other marine debris are constant assaults to the reefs and their inhabitants.
  • Coastal development, dredging, and sedimentation all lead to reef habitat destruction.
  • Unsustainable tourism has led to the destruction of major parts of world-famous reefs. Threats from tourism include stepping and anchoring on reefs and exposure to certain sunscreens that are harmful to coral.[6]

How to Help

  • Sign our Pledge.
  • Sign our petition to remove the harmful chemical oxybenzone from sunscreen.
  • Recycle everything regardless of where you live. Even garbage from inland landfills can reach the ocean.
  • Stop using all chemical pesticides and fertilizers, regardless of whether you live close to the ocean. Check with your local organic gardening companies to find great alternatives to reef-killing chemicals.
  • Become a coral reef volunteer. Educate everyone you know on the importance of coral reefs. If you live near a coast, adopt a coral reef and participate in clean-ups.
  • If you dive or snorkel, make sure you avoid damaging corals in any way. Pledge never to take pieces of coral, step on or anchor on coral, and always dive with companies that pledge to protect the reefs.
  • Don’t buy coral or home aquarium fish unless you are sure they were legally and sustainably collected.
  • Conserve water. Everyone can help because runoff and wastewater will eventually end up in our water and oceans.[7]
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