Coral on an American Samoa reef. Photo credit: The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey
The Pacific Ocean is home to more than 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs.
One of the main environmental functions of coral reefs around the world is protecting about 150,000 kilometres of shoreline in more than 100 nations., said a 2011 United Nations Secretary-General Report on Sustainable Development.
Coral reefs help reduce damage from floods, storms, erosion and act as barrier with water energy. They serve an important purpose in protecting coastal ecosystems, human settlements and infrastructure.
Coral reefs, along with seagrass beds and mangroves, have been estimated to deliver the highest annual value in terms of ecosystem services of all natural ecosystems on the planet, according to the United Nations report.
In 2007, the Scientific American publication published an article titled Coral Reefs Losing Ground Throughout the Pacific. It found that a new analysis identified that an average of roughly 600 square miles of the marine outcroppings disappeared annually between 1968 and 2004.
Since 1995 the rate of their destruction has doubled and more coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean are “disappearing at a rapid clip, outpacing even rainforests.”
Corals are dying worldwide for a number of reasons, particularly because of pest outbreaks (diseases and predators) but also due to climate change, nutrient pollution, destructive fishing practices and coastal development that can smother corals with sediment – Marine biologist John Bruno of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Twenty years ago, Mr Bruno said, more than 60 percent of living coral could be found on their surface but today, no more than 2 percent have coral cover close to that historical baseline.
Living coral cover is a metric of reef habitat quality and quantity analogous to coverage of trees as a measure of tropical forest loss – Marine biologist John Bruno.
Mr Bruno said that although reefs in other parts of the world face similar challenges, the latest research shows that seriously damaged corals can heal and recover such as Caribbean reefs in Jamaica.
But he said that can only be achieved “if greenhouse emissions are reduced, dynamite and arsenic fishing is eliminated and other steps are taken to halt reef killers.”
By 2016, researchers were seeing a scale of damage to coral reefs in the Pacific that they had never seen before. Increasingly warm ocean temperatures had caused the coral to ‘bleach’, a process that strips them of the protein that gives them colour.
For Pacific island communities dependent on the life of the ocean for food and their economies, this spells very bad news.
Coral reefs are also of great economic importance to those who live on or visit islands in the Pacific Ocean. Reefs shelter and provide nursery grounds for many commercially and culturally important species of fish and invertebrates, they protect the islands’ harbors, beaches, and shorelines from erosion and wave damage by storms, and they are vital to the Pacific’s marine tourism industry.
Globally, these diverse ecosystems may provide valuable goods and services worth about $375 billion each year to communities around the world. Yet, as important as coral reefs are, these ecosystems are being threatened worldwide.
Did you know
- the Pacific Ocean has the most coral species compared to the Atlantic Ocean reefs.Source: US National Ocean Service