Coral reefs and why they matter.

Coral reefs are one of our planet’s most diverse and complex ecosystems, known for their vibrant colors and an incredible array of life. These underwater structures are formed by millions of tiny organisms called coral polyps, which build their limestone skeletons over thousands of years. Coral reefs support a wide variety of marine species, providing food and shelter for fish, sea turtles, and countless other creatures. They also play a crucial role in protecting coastlines from storms and erosion. However, coral reefs are facing serious threats from climate change, overfishing, and pollution, and many are in danger of disappearing in the coming decades.

A recent report on Climate Change by IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, which was released on February 28, 2022, has put concerns over the impact of climate change on coral reefs especially in the South Asian region which homes about 4.5 million fishers.

Coral reefs are important from the perspective that they occupy only 0.1 percent of the global sea surface but account for 25 percent of marine biodiversity. The most significant threat to them is coral bleaching, often associated with warming ocean temperatures.

Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the colorful algae that live inside their tissues, leaving the coral tissue transparent and revealing the white skeleton underneath. These algae are known as zooxanthellae and they provide the coral with food through photosynthesis, as well as giving them their vibrant colors. When corals become stressed due to factors such as rising water temperatures, pollution, or changes in salinity, they can expel their zooxanthellae, causing them to turn white or pale. Corals become more vulnerable to disease without the algae and can eventually die. Coral bleaching is a significant threat to coral reefs around the world and is often associated with warming ocean temperatures due to climate change.

Measures are however taken by countries to protect coral reefs and their biodiversity. Avoiding destructive fishing practices, establishing marine protected areas, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse emissions are some of them.

-KARTIKEYA VASHISTHA

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