Coral Reefs Read and React
Their Importance and Protection
How Coral Reefs Work
Coral reefs are one of Earth’s most diverse habitats. There are many different kinds of animals and plants making their living on a coral reef. Reefs lie along coasts of many tropical locations. They need certain environmental factors to survive, which warm coastlines can provide. They need a salty, warm environment (between 68° and 82° F). This keeps the reefs healthy and thriving. They need areas that are constantly churned by the waves to shower them with bits of food over and over. The waves also stir up oxygen over the reefs that the animals there need. The waves keep sand from building up on the coral anchored there. Corals are animals and cannot survive if they are buried in sand.
A Partnership Worth Protecting
Coral reefs have a partnership with an alga called zooxanthellae that lives in the coral tissue itself. Zooxanthellae alga provides food and oxygen to the coral while taking up the carbon dioxide that the coral releases. The coral provides the algae with a safe place to live and grow. Zooxanthellae alga gives coral its many pretty colors. Zooxanthellae alga is very sensitive to pollution or the water temperature changes. It will die and the coral loses its pretty colors. This is called coral bleaching. It is a sign of an unhealthy coral reef.
There are other things that affect coral reefs.
• Coral is also killed by collectors. They harvest colorful corals and fish to sell to aquariums and shell trade markets.
• Visiting tourists, who go snorkeling on the reefs, walk on the fragile plants and animals.
• Boaters pollute the delicately balanced habitat.
Why is it Important to Protect Coral Reefs?
Coral reefs are a beautiful and diverse habitat. They provide a home for many of our favorite exotic fish and animals. They are wondrous place to explore. They also are sensitive and are the first ecosystem along our tropical coastlines to show the effects of abuse and pollution. They are a good early warning system that we need to pay attention to our oceans. If their destruction continues, we will lose these amazing habitats.
How are Coral Reefs Being Protected?
Coral reefs are one of our most biologically diverse habitats, but they are also very delicate and are in serious danger. In 1998 President Clinton helped establish the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to better preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems.
There are many ways people can protect coral reefs.
• Never run your boat into coral. Watch for the brown color of shallow water.
• Don’t ever anchor a boat on coral. Use a coral reef buoy, if there is one, or anchor in the sand nearby.
• Never dump trash or dirty water (bilge) near a coral reef. They are very sensitive.
• You can snorkel over a reef, but never step on coral. It is a living animal.
• Don’t troll (drag a hook) near a coral reef. Hooks can injure coral.
• Don’t support coral reef harvesters. Never buy coral for your fish tank unless it is been stamped with Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) stamp. This makes sure the coral was raised for aquariums and not from a wild reef.