“There are underwater cities filled with beautiful fish, lively vegetation and wondrous sea creatures! They’re called coral reefs and they are extremely important. Let’s explore these amazing ecosystems and learn why we need to protect them!”
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[Part of video transcript follows]
So just what exactly are coral reefs?
Called the “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs are slowly formed when coral polyps secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton, which protects the coral from predators and gives other coral polyps a place to attach themselves. The largest coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef, which spans over 2,600kms and has been growing for about 20,000 years!
The reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and home to countless sea creatures from tropical fish to sea cucumbers to dolphins. Scientists even predict there could be millions of undiscovered species of organisms living in and around the reefs.
So why are they so important?
Besides their awesome aquatic life, coral reefs play a big role in protecting shorelines around the world from coastal storms and erosion. Parts of the reef even act as natural water filtration systems.
Through fisheries, the reefs provide many people with an important source of protein and nutrition, especially in developing countries. This also makes them extremely important economically, even more when considering tourism of the reefs are great stimulants of their local economies. Experts estimate that coral reefs are worth hundreds of billions of dollars!
Due to their vast biodiversity, coral reefs also have the potential to lead to countless life-saving advancements in medicine, possibly helping us find better treatments or cures for things like arthritis, viruses, or even cancer.
But coral reefs around the globe are in danger.
They’re fragile ecosystems that are very sensitive to the increasing water temperatures from climate change.
As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the temperatures of the sea also increase, which leads to coral bleaching. This is an unfortunate phenomenon where the coral lose their symbiotic algae that produce the food the coral need to survive. This can leave the coral reefs vulnerable to other threats and diseases and even kill the coral colonies from starvation. The reefs can sometimes recover from short-term bleaching, but prolonged bleaching can lead to irreversible damage and death.
Increasing carbon dioxide also alters the chemistry of the ocean and leads to ocean acidification, where the more acidic water slows coral growth rates and weakens their skeletons.
Coral reefs also face many other threats including pollution, overfishing, and overharvesting coral. It’s estimated that if left unchecked, over 90% of all coral reefs will be severely threatened by 2030, with almost all of them being in great danger by 2050.
Protecting coral reefs is just one of the many reasons we should all help fight global warming. Share this with your friends so we can help out our ocean buddies!