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World Reef Day: We must act now to protect coral reefs

Today, June 1st, 2022, is the 4th annual World Reef Day, which serves as a call to action to raise awareness about the critically important benefits of healthy coral reef ecosystems.

Coral reefs are among the world’s most diverse ecosystems. They provide shelter and food for 25 percent of all marine life. Across the globe, about 500 million people depend on coral reefs for food and income. Through recreation and tourism, reefs generate billions of dollars for coastal communities every year. 

Unfortunately, the future is uncertain for coral reef ecosystems. Global warming is set to continue for decades, or even centuries, and a hotter world will be a difficult place for coral reefs to exist. Experts around the world are urgently studying how corals are responding to rising temperatures – in an effort to save them before it is too late.

Beyond climate change, coral reefs are under an enormous amount of strain from human activities, such as extreme fishing, plastic pollution, and sedimentation. One of the greatest dangers to corals is ocean acidification, which corrodes coral skeletons and causes them to dissolve. To make matters worse, as CO2 levels rise, corals have fewer carbonate ions to rebuild and strengthen their skeletons. 

When corals are exposed to elevated temperatures, they respond by expelling algae that they need for survival. This phenomenon, known as bleaching, leaves corals vulnerable to infection and death. Back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 destroyed about half of the Great Barrier Reef, the biggest reef system on the planet.

“Coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment and rival rainforests in their biodiversity. Countless numbers of creatures rely on coral reefs for their survival. These important habitats are threatened by a range of human activities,” reports NOAA.

“Many of the world’s reefs have already been destroyed or severely damaged by an increasing array of threats, including pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, and global climate change. However, we can still protect and preserve our remaining reefs if we act now.”

NOAA is leading efforts to study and conserve reefs for future generations through the activities of the Coral Reef Conservation Program.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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