The lost is incalculable for ocean life
A great natural treasure is rapidly being lost. Although they only cover 2% of the ocean floor, the world's reefs harbor up to a quarter of the 500,000-known species that live in the oceans.
Fish reproduce and grow around corals, what in turn helps to regulate the levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans and protects coastal areas from erosion.
To date, the UN estimates the loss of half of the world's coral reefs and the consumption of almost one third of commercial fish populations at "unsustainable" rates.
The great coral reef system of Florida extends hundreds of miles along the east coast of the USA. It is the third largest in the world, and about 1,400 species of plants, animals and 500 species of fish have been recorded there.
Unfortunately, last year marine scientists found that almost half of the reef was missing. The main cause is still a mystery, because there are multiple possible victimizers. Natural forces like extreme precipitations and heat waves may have played some role. However, the damages of greater incidence seem to be caused by the human being, who intensified fishing in the Florida Keys, built roads and cities, and increased pollution. Thus, the flow of fresh water, sediments, and nutrients from the earth changed.
Corals do not support a change in temperature or salinity level. They only need an increase of 1 ° C for a few weeks or extreme rains to start dying.
Abnormally warm water caused the first generalized coral whitening recorded in the world in 1998. The stretches of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, known to be the largest in the world and other reefs off Madagascar, Belize and the Maldives became white and apparently dead.
The whitening of corals is due to the fact that they contain microscopic seaweed known as zooxanthellae. These are responsible for their spectacular colors and are their main source of food, through the process of photosynthesis. When corals feel stressed by pollution or experience a water temperature change they expel these seaweed, lose their color, and turn white. If the stress factors are not reduced, they die.
As this is a problem of vital importance, the UN has made a call to establish policies that allow the recovery of the corals.
In the Gulf of Mexico, 27 coral reefs form an underwater range that runs through six islands in an area that stretches for kilometers. Between them, is the Palancar Reef known to be one of the largest in the world.
In the meantime, in Colombia there is one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the Western Hemisphere. The country has 2,860 kilometers of coral reefs. The reefs not only present a topic of vital importance in the environmental care, but also the coral reefs provide many economic benefits due to tourism to hundreds of millions of inhabitants of the coasts.
The solutions are political, technical, and they must address the entire marine ecosystem. Protected reserves are urgently needed, and fishing must be controlled. Above all, climate change must be addressed. If the oceans continue to absorb CO2, the increased acidity will be fatal and coral bleaching will worsen.
Then the rich, diverse, and astonishingly beautiful coral reefs of the world can almost disappear in one lifetime. Recklessness on this scale would have unimaginable consequences.
LatinAmerican Post | Helber Rojas
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza