Today as we celebrate Earth Month we’re taking a bit of a different turn to look at coral reefs. Coral reefs are located in more than 100 countries and cover close to 110,000 square miles of the earth’s surface. In spite of their relative abundance, coral reefs aren’t typically top of mind in the fight for endangered species.
Nonetheless, coral reefs serve an integral role in the ecosystem of our oceans. A coral reef can support more than 1,000 different species. In addition, more than 25% of all marine life live in coral reefs across the globe.
But coral reefs are in danger. Close to 65% of coral reefs are under serious threat and 25% are considered damaged beyond repair. Coral reef destruction is caused by many factors, including acidification of oceans from climate change. Other factors include bacteria, pesticides and other chemicals. Finally, coastal development and unsustainable tourism are destroying coral reef habitat.
Why save coral reefs? Coral reefs support a broad set of marine species by providing food, shelter and breeding ground. In addition, new medicines, including those for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases have been derived from plants and animals living on coral reefs. Finally, coral reefs play a major role in industries ranging from eco-tourism to fisheries. They provide further economic benefit by protect shorelines from storms.
What can we do? We can all take a number of actions to protect coral reefs. Use sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone, a chemical shown to harm coral reefs. Stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Recycle and minimize trash that gets into our oceans. Finally, every action to prevent or reverse climate change is good for the future of our entire planet, including coral reefs. Happy Earth Month!