coral reef

The bleaching of coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures is a problem that is threatening ecosystems in the Caribbean and elsewhere. — AP File photo

Coral reefs are so crucial to the way we live and eat — moreso than we realize.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs support more life per unit area than any other marine environment: 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species.

Scientists estimate there are 1 million to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around the reefs throughout the world. They say these uncover creatures may be the key to finding new medicines in this century and beyond.

And the buck regarding the value of reefs doesn’t just stop there.

Studies show that coral reefs cover just 1% of the ocean floor but they provide goods and services worth over $375 billion each year.

Did you know that coral reefs act as a buffer against huge waves, storms and floods that would otherwise batter the shorelines? They actually lower the intensity of the storms, preventing huge losses of life and property damage as well as help to minimize coastline erosion.

In the last 50 years, scientists have noticed that the reefs are dying off because of several diseases, reef bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures, pollution such as oil spills, higher acidic levels in the water and overfishing.

The Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean have seen different types of coral, such as staghorn and elkhorn, decline to the point of being classified as critically endangered species.

Luis Solorzano, executive director of the Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean division, was quote saying, “In many developing countries, people are so poor that they are eating down the food chains of the ocean.”

For example, from 2002 to 2009 Belize saw a 41% decline in the parrotfish species, all due to overfishing. As a result, the coral reefs eroded from 75% to 20% because fish were not present to clean off the parasitic algae. In 2009, Belize had to ban fishing for parrotfish.

The Virgin Islands did the same thing, and it seems to be working because the parrotfish population is on the rise.

Solorzano from TNC says the countries must educate people so they understand that taking care of the reefs will provide a quality of fish that is much better and bigger. He also notes that a sustainable ecosystem will supply people food well into the future.

Another animal that supported the survival of coral reefs was the long-spined sea urchin. Scientists said until 1983, this was the most common type of urchin in the Caribbean Sea. But then a disease killed off about 95% of them and as a result the coral reefs died.

David Gross, a biologist from The Nature Conservancy in the Virgin Islands, supports those findings as he has seen the urchins go from being plentiful to scarce over the years.

TNC, which has offices throughout the Caribbean, has been creating coral nurseries. Published articles details how it has harvested fragments of the staghorn and elkhorn corals that are then attached to trees to regrow them. Afterward, they are transplant back to the ocean floor to restore the lost reefs to their former ecosystem.

According to the agency, it has 30 trees growing 1,500 staghorn corals. Among the goals are a land-based coral nursery and the construction of labs in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

The 40th meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caribbean Community was held at Gros Islet, St. Lucia from July 3 to 5 under the leadership of the nation’s prime minister, Allen Chastanet. Conferees adopted what they referred to as the St. Johns resolution. In summary, they re-commited to tackle environmental changes.

Here are some of the take-aways in the resolution, which came out the meeting of 15 Caribbean leaders:

• Remain concerned with the high levels of plastics and microplastics within the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, and their adverse effect on human health, marine environment, ecosystems and overall economies.

• Recall the various CARICOM declarations on the environment, climate change and oceans.

• Welcome the steps taken by many of the member states to reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastic containers and other similar packaging materials. Encourage those member states that have not yet introduced such measures to reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastics to take the necessary steps to do so.

• Reiterate a commitment to the United Nations Agenda 2030 and its sustainable development goals, and in particular to the goals of using “the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” and reducing significantly all forms of marine pollution by 2025.

• Recognize that effective implementation of these actions requires enabling and coherent policy, legislative and regulatory frameworks, good governance and effective enforcement at the global, regional, national and local levels.

• Commit to continue to be global advocates on the harmful effects of marine plastics litter, including microplastics.

Wow!! Coral reefs are critical to our survival on this planet; so this cannot be taken lightly. We must do our part by demanding that our politicians put more laws on the books that will cut back on pollution.

Each one of us can contribute by cutting back our plastic usage, and recycle, recycle, recycle.

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