Rainforest Of The Sea
Often called “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs form some of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems. Coral reefs occupy less than 1 percent of the world’s ocean area, yet they support an estimated 25% of all marine species.
Thanks to their diversity, Coral reefs provide millions of people with food, medicine, protection from storms, and revenue from fishing and tourism. But these beautiful underwater resources are under threat of extinction.
Coral reefs are disappearing around the world. Human pollution and over fishing are just some of the threats coral reefs face on the local level. Rising temperatures, sea levels, and the acidification of our oceans poses grave threats to the health of coral reefs around the world.
The following stories are examples of how some coral reefs are fighting back and remaining resilient. In some cases with the help of people, in others, reefs are defying the odds all on their own.
Colombia, Cartagena Bay
Coral reefs are commonly associated with waters that are well illuminated, low in nutrients, and high in oxygen. In 2013, a healthy coral reef was discovered in one of the least expected places. The reef was discovered in the waters of Colombia, at the entrance of Cartagena Bay. A highly polluted waterway that receives industrial and sewage waste.
The coral reef remained concealed from Cartagena’s one million-odd human inhabitants due to the perception that the environment was too hostile for any reef to survive. Below the murky waters of Cartagena Bay, the hidden coral reef provided a habitat for diverse array of species. 42 species of coral, 38 of sponge, three of lobster, and eight of sea urchin were discovered within the waters. These attributes correspond to a reef in “good condition”, despite the reefs hostile conditions.
Researchers want to gain insight into the factors that have allowed this reef to thrive under such unusual conditions. But plans to dredge part of Cartagena Bay threaten the survival of this hidden reef.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
In 2005, Mexico’s Caribbean coast was struck by two hurricanes, causing billions in damages. These hurricanes caused the closing of hotels and other businesses in Cancún long enough to cause further economic impact. But some hotels and beaches in the area suffered less damage than others. Further analysis pointed to an important insight. Areas covered by Mexico’s coral reef system suffered much less damage compared to areas not protects by the coral reefs.
This discovery has implications for people around the world who live along coastal areas prone to flooding. For these coastal communities, natural systems like coral reefs provide the first line of defense against storms. But coral reefs can themselves be damaged by severe storms. Especially those that have already been weakened by pollution and overfishing; these factors reduce the protection they offer for coastal communities.
In Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo, state government, hotel owners, The Nature Conservancy, and the local science community have developed an innovative strategy to confront this threat. These local groups created the Coastal Zone Management Trust. This trust will finance ongoing maintenance of reefs and purchase insurance to ensure these vital ecosystems are restored after extreme storms hit. The first time insurance has been purchased against a coral reef system.
This innovative funding system will help to protect Mexico’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry; bolster economic resilience of the region; encourage conservation of a valuable natural asset; and create a scalable new market for the insurance industry. A model that could be applied to other regions and ecosystems
Check out our post about the water crisis in Capetown and Mexico City.