Coral Reef Conservation

by Kim-Lin Ramsawak

 

Can you imagine a world without coral reefs? What about a world without clownfish, sea stars, or sea anemones? It is almost impossible to think of the oceans without these iconic species, but that might be our future if corals continue to bleach and die off. The collapse of coral reefs can be remedied however by altering the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 to cease tourism and fishing activities in affected reefs. This amendment to the Act may not be politically feasible thanks to the groups who depend on reefs for their livelihoods, but it is necessary to ensure the survival of them for future populations.

 

Coral reefs in the United States are located in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, and are home to about 25% of all marine species, and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the United States annually, via tourism and fishing practices.[1] In the Florida Keys alone, coral reef tourism generates more than $1.2 billion dollars a year.[2] Unfortunately, the reefs in the U.S. have been and continue to bleach at extremely high rates. Coral bleaching is process by which stressed corals expel the symbiotic algae that lives in their tissues, causing them to turn brittle and white.[3] There are various stressors that can cause this phenomenon to occur, including changes in temperature, light, or nutrients in the surrounding environment. Corals can survive small-scale bleaching events, but their altered state leaves them extremely vulnerable. In short, coral bleaching causes reef systems (which take a very long period to grow) to die off quickly.

 

The collapse of coral systems will have many negative implications for the marine species that need them for habitat, shelter, and spawning grounds, and for humans as well. A cascade effect will ensue if corals die, leaving the other species that depend on it vulnerable, including important food species for humans, like grouper, snapper, oysters, and clams.[4] Food security will falter, meaning that the populations that depend on reef species for food will no longer be guaranteed said species, and the economic sectors affected by fishery species would see “enormous” damage.[5] And, in some cases, reefs are home to important species used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop cures for diseases such as cancer and arthritis.[6]

 

If the same rate of bleaching and reef loss continues to occur, it is estimated that the United States will lose up to 70% of the world’s coral reefs by the year 2050.[7] In order to combat the decline of coral reefs, the Coral Reef Conservation Act was enacted in 2000, with the goal of conserving reefs, providing financial resources for programs with that intention, and promoting wise management of reefs based on sound scientific data.[8] The Act gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responsibility for conservation efforts, which does so using “scientific, private, government, and nongovernmental organizations,” through the Coral Reef Conservation Program. While this Act establishes a starting point for conservation efforts of coral reefs, bleaching and reef death is still occurring at a high rate. So, how do we fix this problem? In order to achieve sufficient conservation, it is recommended that tourism and fishing activities in any affected reef area cease until the reef recovers. While this recommendation may seem drastic, or even politically infeasible, due to those who depend on income generated from the reef, it may save the reef for future generations to enjoy and avoid the dyer consequences of total reef collapse.

 

Mentioned above, bleaching events leave corals in a vulnerable state, making it easier for pieces to break off and die. Fishing activities, such as dynamite usage and bottom trawling increase chance of coral death, making it impossible for reefs to recover.[9] Fishing off larger species leave the coral susceptible to harmful species that multiply when their predators are removed.[10] While fishing is important to generate money, the ability to fish at all will be taken away if the corals die completely, and these circumstances are similar for tourism activities. While it is possible to monitor tourism, there are still tourists that break coral, stifle corals with sediment, and drop anchors directly on the reefs. Both of these activities bring about harmful conditions that increase stress, bleaching, and coral death.

 

Human activities are affecting reefs in negative ways, despite efforts to conserve reefs in the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. This Act would be more effective if it is amended to stop tourism and fishing in affected reefs.[11] This will give the reef time to recover without the added stress brought upon by these practices. Coral conservation is the ultimate goal of this act, so this amendment will allow for that to finally occur.

 

Luke B. Comment

This post was interesting in that it went into more detail about the benefits we stand to lose by neglecting these beautiful ecosystems. You focused on different aspects than the other coral reef post. I don’t know how powerful the Coral Reef Conservation Act since I feel like biggest problem facing coral reefs is climate change. Although banning fishing will help, I don’t feel like banning tourists will have enough of an impact to warrant the loss of revenue. I feel like our efforts would be better spent educating the public and trying to lessen climate change and its effects.

Taylor comment:

I really enjoyed reading your blog. Though the public is generally aware of the state of our coral reefs, I wish we collectively did more to protect them before it is too late. One concern I have is that even if the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 could be amended so as to cease tourism and fishing in affected areas, would this be enough to protect the coral reefs? Specificallly, would general climate change push the coral over the edge despite our efforts to cut back on toursim and fishing in the area? I think one of the best points you make is the cascade effect that will ensue if coral reefs become depleted or die off completely. This drives home the point of how truly vital coral reefs are to the entire aquatic ecosystem. All in all, this was a very informative piece.

Adrian comment:

Great blog! I agree that the Coral Reef Conservation Act should be amended to halt tourism and fishing in affected areas. I think that the United States government needs to take more direct legislative action towards protecting coral reefs, especially as the issues of ocean acidification and coral bleaching become more pressing issues because of climate change. It will be interesting to see how amendments to the Coral Reef Conservation Act are able to work around public backlash due to economic benefits of fishing and tourism. Some form of eco-tourism may be an option for this affected communities.
 
Phillip comment:
Prior to reading this blog post, I had no idea that the United States was home to such a significant portion of the world’s coral reefs. I had heard of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, for example, but never quite new what it was. Your post was very helpful in describing the process of coral bleaching as well as identifying its causes. This topic, I think, brings up a unique ethical issue that arises when sensitive ecosystems are put at risk due to local human populations trying to maintain their livelihoods. Which party’s interests are more important to protect? I agree with your stance on prioritizing the protection of the environment but the difficulty lies in finding alternatives for the locals and tourists.
 
ZaKerra comment:
This is really great. I think it is important to focus on changes that can be made on existing policy. Since there is the Coral Reef Conservation Act in place already, it shows that there has been and could be more support for the protection of our country’s coral reefs. This was incredibly informative, and allowed me to see why the protection of these reefs are much more important than tourism needs. It would be interesting to think through alternatives to tourism and fishing in these locations, or possibly ecotourism solutions that are geared toward protecting the reefs. While this past Act shows that there is some type of support for protecting the reefs, it might not be feasible to cut out tourism or fishing completely. A compromise, at least during the current administration, might be more feasible. Overall, very well done and insightful. It really makes the reader think and care about the health of the U.S. coral reefs.
 
 

 

[1] Field, Michael E., Susan A. Cochran, and Kevin R. Evans. “U.S. Coral Reefs–Imperiled National Treasures.” U.S. Coral Reefs–Imperiled National Treasures. U.S. Geological Survey, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

[2] Forty-four coral reef conservation groups and stakeholders. “Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation To the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress.” Coral.org. 2 July 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. <http://www.coral.org/files/pdf/White_Paper.pdf>.

[3] US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What is coral bleaching?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service. N.p., 15 Mar. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

[4] Skoloff, Brian. “Death of coral reefs could devastate nations.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 26 Mar. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Forty-four coral reef conservation groups and stakeholders. “Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation To the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress.” Coral.org. Coral.org, 2 July 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. <http://www.coral.org/files/pdf/White_Paper.pdf>.

[8] Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. 16 U.S.C. §§ 6401 et seq.

[9] World Wildlife Fund. “Coral reef: threats.” WWF. N.p., n.d, Web 31 Mar. 2017. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/coral_reefs/coral_threats/#nav

[10] Field, Michael E., Susan A. Cochran, and Kevin R. Evans. “U.S. Coral Reefs–Imperiled National Treasures.” U.S. Coral Reefs–Imperiled National Treasures. U.S. Geological Survey, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

[11] World Wildlife Fund. “Coral reef: threats.” WWF. N.p., n.d, Web 31 Mar. 2017. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/coral_reefs/coral_threats/#nav

 

 

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