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But, it is a living organism that supports the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of species in the underwater ecosystem. Man may appreciate its wonder, but our destructive tendencies are harming this vital member of the oceans and seas.
Here’s what you need to know about the grave threats facing coral reefs. If we don’t act soon, we may destroy these beautiful pieces of the earth.
What Exactly Is Coral?
We realize that the majority of our readers know what coral is but for those of you that don’t or need a refresher…
Corals are relatives of the sea anemone. They are all made of the same simple structure: the polyp. The polyp resembles a tin can open at one end: the open end has a mouth surrounded by tentacles. The tentacles have stingers called nematocysts, that let the coral polyp capture tiny organisms that get too close.
Corals that live in warm water often eat zooxanthellaes (pronounced zo-o-zan-THELL-eez). These are single-celled algae that photosynthesize and pass some of the food they make to their hosts. In exchange, the coral animal passes nutrients to the algae. The zooxanthellae are also what produce the vibrant colors that corals have.
And they aren’t just beautiful; tropical corals perform vital ecosystem services that affect the livelihoods of millions of people.
Large reefs, for instance, offer coastal protection from tsunamis, floods, and storms; they are also vital spawning and nursery areas for fish and other aquatic life harvested by humans.
Just like our rainforests, coral reefs host a riot of biodiversity. Taking up just 0.1% of the ocean’s floor, they cultivate 25% of the world’s marine life. Losing this amazing ecosystem would devastate the 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihood and food.
As in other areas of our environment, people pose the greatest threat to coral reefs. Overfishing, destructive fishing, global warming, pollution, changing ocean chemistry, and invasive species are all causing extensive damage. There are locations where reefs have been totally destroyed, and in other places, reefs are pale shadows of their former selves.
The Threats Are Coming Fast and Furious
While humans are the primary farmers of coral reefs, they are also the primary destructors. Thanks to global warming and climate change, rising water temperatures in 2016 caused the worst destruction of corals ever found on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Nearly 67% of the corals in the reef’s northern portion died.
The central section lost 6% of the corals, and the southern reef remains healthy. But, scientists are concerned that recovery will be difficult if climate change continues. In early 2016, sea surface temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest ever recorded, at least 1C higher than normal.
The reefs are lost through gradual starvation, due to bleaching, which is the expulsion of the colorful algae zooxanthella. These algae turn sunlight into food for the coral. This leads to the white, gaunt appearance of the coral, as it is left without its main source of food.
The Australian Government has acted. According to the BBC:
“They published a long-term sustainability plan for the reef and pledged financial support for research into coral bleaching. The 2050 plan identifies the need to help make the reef more resilient to climate change in the future, while trying to lower carbon emissions.”
But that plan hasn’t begun to address the phenomenon of mass bleaching.
Mass bleaching is caused by global warming-induced increases in sea surface temperatures. It has been recorded on the reef four times in recent history. Aerial surveys have found that back-to-back mass bleaching events have affected more than 65% of the Great Barrier Reef.
Scientists are alarmed by the proximity of the 2016 and 2017 bleaching events. They fear the reef will have little chance to recover.
But humans are affecting coral in other ways too. Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, reports the BBC.
“More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region. This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025.”
Plastic increases the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs. Plastic bottles, bags and rice sacks were found scattered among the reefs. Nearly one-third of the corals surveyed where loaded with plastic. Indonesian reefs were the most heavily polluted and Thailand and Myanmar were close behind.
Since the bulk of the plastic comes from land, it is our responsibility to dispose of our garbage wisely and prevent further damage to the reefs.
Working To Preserve Coral Reefs
The methods used to preserve coral are varied. They range from helping improve their genetic strength to using robots as survey tools.
Scientists are trying to find the corals with the best, hardiest genes, breed them in tanks in labs, and finally, return them to the reefs where they can continue to multiply. They hope to create tougher, more robust reefs and slowly build an ecosystem that can survive climate change and other human-related environmental issues.
Scientists in Florida are perfecting techniques that could allow for the quick re-establishment of reefs destroyed by rising ocean temperatures. In Hawaii, they study the biology of corals that managed to survive after an earlier generation of people polluted a magnificent bay with raw sewage. Caribbean countries are coming together to make a genetic storage bank for corals in case the reefs all die.
And there is so much that we can do to protect coral reefs in our part of the world. We can ensure a healthy fish community, keep the water around the reefs clean, and learn how to protect the much healthier, more resilient coral populations.
Fish are important neighbors on coral reefs, especially the fish that eat that tend to smother corals. Fish also dispatch of the predators of corals, like crown of thorns starfish. Marine protected areas (MPAs) help keep reefs healthy. The larger MPAs protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, and in June 2012, Australia created the largest marine reserve network ever. Smaller MPAs, managed by local groups, have seen great success in developing countries.
And that’s not all. A fleet of robotic jellyfish has been designed to monitor coral reefs. Invented by engineers at Florida Atlantic University, these underwater drones use a ring of hydraulic tentacles as propulsion.
The small robots can squeeze through tight holes and not cause damage to the corals. The flexible, 20cm-wide bots look like the moon jellyfish of the larval stage.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas have tested a hydrogen-powered bot, and engineers at Virginia Tech have experimented with mechanical jellyfish. But, the prototypes from Florida Atlantic University are much smaller, can swim untethered, and offer less chance for damaging the corals.
And these efforts now have even more purpose as new coral reefs have been discovered.
New Coral Has Been Discovered
A group of American and Brazilian scientists discovered a new sponge and coral reef more than 600 miles long at the mouth of the Amazon River. The reef occupies 3,600 square miles of ocean floor from the southern tip of French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhão State. Additionally, an 85 mile long coral reef was discovered off the coast of South Carolina in 2018.
The researchers were surprised that the reef could exist at all because the Amazonian plume is quite muddy and doesn’t allow much sunlight through. But, the researchers have found that the reef’s biology depends on its site. The southern part, with tougher, stag-like corals, is only covered by the muddy water three months of the year, so it has the opportunity to complete photosynthesis. The north part, which houses more sponges and predatory creatures, is kept from sunlight by the muddy water more than 6 months out of the year.
The continuing climate changes make securing these tougher, more robust reefs critical. Their presence shows how corals can survive in more severe ocean environments, and they also point to how a portion of the biodiversity sustained by tropical coral reefs can survive warmer times like we see now in our climate.
Coral reefs are a vital part of the oceanic ecosystem. They provide homes and food for many species of fish and help maintain the health of the ocean.
Reefs also provide protection for humans living on the coasts and livelihood for fishermen. It is in everyone’s best interest to take steps to protect and increase our coral reefs. They are not just pretty plants, but an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem.
Many people are very passionate about making their home aquarium look like a piece of the ocean that has been transplanted in their homes. Some people will take pains in cultivating their aquarium themselves while some will just like to go out and buy their whole kit, tank, filter, lighting plants fish and all. This may be an easier way to create a good aquarium, however, the fun way is to start with the basics and grow your own fish and plants.
Some people are pretty good at breeding their own fish and have formed groups where they can exchange their home grown aquarium plants, fish and coral as well. There is a certain joy in seeing your efforts take definate shape in the form of aquetic plants and marine life.
Attempting to start a reef in your aquarium is not the sort of advice gurus will dole out to beginers in this hobby. One is advised to start with a small aquarium that houses fish only. Once you have a few months of experience in caring for the fish in the aquarium you can move on to trying your hand at breeding fish, then plants in the aquarium. After about a year you will be rady to try your hand at growing coral in the tank.
Before you rush out to get yourself some coral reef for the tank, remember that you are not just placing a piece of rock to your aquarium. These are actually called Polyps and are tiny invertibrate living organisms. The existance of these polyps in your saltwater tank depends on your ability to provide proper lighting, food and salt water.
In order for the coral reef to survive you must provide good saltwater to the tank at regular intervals. If you change the water abruptly you are likely to send your polyps into a state of shock and ultimately lose them. You will know the coral is in trouble by the discoloring of the reef. In addition you must be able to provide a proper pump to produce a strong current in the water as this is very important for the coral’s survival.
You must never forget that corals are living organisms and require food. Many people of the wrong belief that corals feed like other plants in the water, on photosynthesis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Corals need to be fed, like the other fish in the aquarium, at least 3 times a week. Frozen food is best for coral reef in the tank. Any coral food purchased from the pet store that has been open for more than 5 months must be discarded. Liquid or bottled food is available from the pet store and is best suited for the coral as they do not dirty the aquarium.
Believe it or not large polyps feed on pieces of minced meat! What do you know – from plants to carnivores! However, remember if the polyps are too small they will starve because the large pieces og minced meat will not be of any use to them. So stick to the prepared food from the pet store.
If you have done your research and have a good supply of nutrients from the store you will have your coral reef in your living room in no time at all.
* Shared from http://www.ledgrowlight-aquarium.com.au/ blog post
Maybe a friend’s aquarium or some in a dealer’s have been seen and they are so good – good in more than one way, they are relaxing and the aquarium world is very interesting.
A marine aquarium doesn’t build itself of course; they have to be constructed in such a way that the type of aquarium is properly supported. Without this there are going to be problems and that’s not a pleasure. So there’s a general procedure that should be followed.
Are you willing to give the time? This might seem strange as it’s obvious that putting an aquarium together takes time. The construction stage is fine, the enthusiasm of ‘newness’ is there and the potential aquarist is bubbling over in the desire to get on with it. It’s not only in the initial stages that problems could arise however, it’s later on. There’s weekly maintenance that needs to be done month in month out year in year out. It doesn’t seem problematical at first but it can be when enthusiasm has waned somewhat. So starting a marine aquarium should never be an instant decision – the very fact that livestock are present demands consistency.
Have you the space? Normally the largest aquarium that will fit is chosen, this is the natural choice as big is seen as better. It’s true that a large aquarium has the greater initial visual impact but smaller ones can also be very beautiful and interesting as can be found by browsing the internet. The aquarium shouldn’t be too tight a fit as it could be necessary to get round the sides for maintenance. Mentally picture the aquarium in place – could maintenance be reasonably easily accomplished? There needs to be a power outlet close to the aquarium and this should be accessible once the aquarium is in place. Don’t forget that the aquarium is going to have to stand on something so perhaps a cabinet is required? A sump is a good idea so to avoid any impact on space could one go in the cabinet beneath the aquarium? Consider the construction of the floor – seawater plus rocks plus aquarium equals considerable weight. Will the floor support it?
What type of aquarium will it be? There are three types, fish only, corals only and mixed reef (fish and corals). This choice has an impact on the equipment that is needed, for example corals need special lighting.
How about the cost of purchase for the equipment? This really is important as mistakes could lead to corner cutting – not the way to start! There is the aquarium of course and any sump that will be used. There could be overflow holes required in the aquarium – will this be DIY or done by a dealer? There is the cabinet if required. Consider the amount of sea salt needed for the initial mix, it isn’t cheap. Then there is the necessary electrical equipment such as sufficiently sized heaters, circulation pumps, the return pump from the sump, canister filter(s) or live rock, a correctly sized protein skimmer and lights plus two timers. Then there are the test kits to monitor the seawater condition. A good way to obtain a general guideline of the cost is to make a list of the needed items then price them from sources on the internet, a magazine or a local dealer.
How much will the livestock cost? The local dealer should have various corals and fish which will permit a guideline to be obtained. This will not be accurate as decisions on what types have not been made but at least knowledge of the general cost of various types can be obtained.
How much will it cost to run? Feeding the livestock is not costly. Sea salt is needed for routine weekly partial seawater changes. Test kits will need renewing from time to time. There is the electrical cost which is easy to estimate if a list of required items has been made. These items each have a wattage – add these up. This will come to part of a kilowatt or a number of kilowatts and a part per hour. The cost of a kilowatt (1000 watts) will be known so the daily, weekly etc cost can be determined. For a day just multiply by 24 and so on. Heaters and lights will not be on all the time so divide the wattage by two for these for estimate purposes.
Is it all too expensive? There’s no need to give up yet. Consider a smaller aquarium. This will reduce the cost of nearly everything. However, new purchase and running estimates need to be considered to be sure, if it is still too expensive or if there is a doubt, don’t start.
Is everything acceptable? Wonderful, the initial stages are complete, the aquarium, cabinet and any sump can be obtained plus other equipment. Some more research will be needed to ensure that the equipment purchased is suitable for the aquarium size and the job it has to do.
Marine aquariums are supposed to be relaxing, the stuff above doesn’t look like it! Marine aquariums are most definitely relaxing – and exciting, and beautiful. That of course is when they’re finished and settled. They won’t be finished and settled if not set up correctly, so they will not be beautiful and definitely not relaxing. The aquarist will face stress because of problems. It isn’t necessary to have every bell and whistle available but the aquarium must have the basic adequate necessities.
There are two important words for marine aquarists and these are research and patience.
* Shared from http://www.ledgrowlight-aquarium.com.au/ blog post