Beautiful underwater ecosystems have long since been the treasures at the bottom of the ocean. The diversity of fauna living with and on the coral reefs provides not only a habitat for fish and marine animals to exist and indeed survive, but also a setting for recreational pursuits such as diving.
Despite coral reefs only covering a tiny portion of the planet – 0.1% of the ocean – they support a quarter of all marine species. This fact alone is cause to invest in the utmost protection for one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world which provides a vital habitat for thousands of species of fish, invertebrates, mammals and other organisms who depend upon them for food, shelter and protection as well as nursery and spawning ground.
Many would think that coral reefs only have underwater properties and functions but they protect the coastline as well. As a natural breakwater, coral reefs help to dissipate the force of waves which means they minimise their impact during extreme weather like storms, tsunamis and typhoons. They reduce the damage they inflict on the shoreline and the coastal communities living there. Coral reefs also become a source of sand to replenish beaches and prevent erosion.
With the basis of their importance mapped out, now we turn to the threats on coral reefs. With ocean temperatures rising due to climate change and coral bleaching on a rapid rise (move this sentence as a footnote– when the water is too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white)our efforts to protect coral reefs need to be a top priority before we encounter a ‘too little too late’ scenario and we are left contemplating what we could have done to save the coral reefs earlier.
Recent studies have revealed that 50% of the world's coral reefs have already been destroyed. Scientists predict that all corals will be threatened by 2050 and that 75 percent will face high to critical threat levels. It has been reported that Indonesia has the largest area of threatened coral reefs, with fishing threats being the main stressor on coral reefs. More than 75% of the coral reefs in the Atlantic are threatened. In over 20 countries and territories in this region, all coral reefs are rated as threatened.
Coral reefs boost the global economy by generating millions of jobs and therefore billions of dollars. Numerous coastal communities’ economies are reliant upon visitors coming for recreational activities on the coral reefs. According to PADI, one million new scuba divers are certified each year and millions more go snorkeling on reefs around the world. Around the world, coral reefs help originate jobs, food, and income for an estimated 500 million people, through investments in tourist infrastructure for tour guides, boat crews, their accommodation, restaurant staff and all other related leisure and entertainment outlets for visitors making a trip to a tropical destination.
Thankfully, initiatives have been put in place to protect coral reefs for future generations. The UN Environment Programme has a ‘Green Fins’ initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkeling practices across the industry globally. Gabriel Grimsditch, UNEP’s marine ecosystems expert, explains: “Coral reefs are hugely valuable in terms of marine biodiversity, harbouring at least a quarter of all marine species and providing support to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. So, protecting them from the impacts of a burgeoning tourism industry is vital to the health of our oceans. Tourists can also have a tangible impact on the marine biodiversity hotspots they visit by always following the Green Fins guidelines for best practice. We can all take positive actions that will protect our coral reefs, keeping them healthy and thriving for years to come.
The survival of marine tourism globally depends on healthy coral reefs – snorkelers and scuba divers have the responsibility to employ the best and sustainable practices which lead as an example to tourists, in turn, to help reduce the pressure of tourism and global stressors put on coral reefs.
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