Coral Reefs: An Ecosystem Under Assault By Joseph A. Mandara 2

Imagine a place, where like an eagle; you take flight above a world of unimaginable beauty. Imagine a place where the silence is broken only by the sound of your breathing. Imagine a place where suddenly a thousand colors and shapes burst before your eyes.  A feeling of peace and serenity engulfs you as if reaching out to the place of our beginning. This is the world that awaits below our ocean’s surface. It is a world of complexity and fascination that is under assault from the demands of an increasing human population and a lack of understanding of the interconnections within our environment.

Over the millenniums coral reefs have developed intricate food webs that provide a home to 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life. Often referred to as the “Rainforests of the Ocean”, this rich enclave of biodiversity,  is suffering damage and destruction from both natural and anthropogenic  stresses. Diseases ,  unlawful fishing, global warming and pollution have destroyed approximately 10 percent of our coral reefs.  It is projected that if these trends continue 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed within forty years.

Scientists believe that the major culprit causing the deterioration of our coral reefs is a destruction of the delicate balance of the ocean’s chemistry. A common stress response of coral reefs to a changing environment is bleaching, which has been increasing in frequency since the 1980’s. Bleaching is caused by a decrease of zooxanthellate  invertebrates, a symbiotic algae, that live within the coral and provide it with most of the essential nutrients and the diversity of colors.  Many scientists believe that this phenomenon is being exacerbated by an increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. According to marine biologists Ken Carpenter  of Old Dominion  University in Norfolk, Va.: “If we cannot manage the (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere, there’s a very good possibility that bleaching events and disease events will be occurring with greater frequency and, if that occurs, there is a good chance that some species are not going to be able to replenish themselves fast enough”…….”Add ocean acidification(also caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere),which is even more insidious than ocean warming, and you’ve got a real dire picture.”

These frequent  bleaching events have led the U.S. Government to place two species of corals – Elkhorn (Acropora Palmata)  and  Staghorn ( Acropora Cervicornis) on the endangered list. This action emphasizes that  these Caribbean  Reef – Builders face a real possibility of extinction within the next thirty years.

The good news is that the government has granted 3.3 million dollars for offshore nurseries for the purpose of growing Elkhorn and Staghorn species. In the next three years these nurseries are expected to grow approximately 12,000 new corals. “The nursery off Fort Lauderdale consists of two sites, just south and north of Hugh Taylor Birch State, where scientists from NOVA are growing Staghorn coral. The coral on one site started three years ago have grown large and are ready to be moved onto reefs, said David Gilliam assistant professor of The University’s Oceanographic Center’.(Palm Beach Post News).

The proactive actions taken by marine biologists will hopefully conserve this rich patrimony of life for future generations to enjoy.

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