Coral reefs are amazing. I know a rather simple statement and one as divers we will all agree with. But did you know that coral reefs cover approximately 110,000 square miles? That is about the size of the state of Nevada. Feels sort of small. And yet coral reefs are home to over one third of all fish life and act as nursery grounds to over 25% of all known marine life.
Just about 8% of all coral species can be found in the Atlantic while the rest are to be found in the Indo-Pacific. (I think more adventures to the Indo-Pacific are called for.) What is odd is that between the two oceans they share only 8 of over 100 know corals.
Soft corals, hard corals, small and large are classified as animals. But they are a unique combination of plant, animal and mineral. Coral reefs are varied and vibrant play grounds. As divers we know this and the best way to protect them is to have wonderful buoyancy control. Here are a few crazy facts to keep in mind about how coral reefs grow. Did you know that coral reach sexual maturity between 7 to 10 years of age or when they are about 4 inches? Staghorn and Elkhorn corals are among the fastest growing corals at approximately 5 inches a year. Whereas, most corals grow only a fraction of an inch a year. Think of some of the size of corals you have seen and imagine how old they must be.
As we all know coral reefs are in trouble worldwide. That is why I found this article so fascinating and hopeful. Along with all the places that are working on coral nurseries around the world there is hope for our coral reefs. There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of research, but maybe we can help the coral reefs thrive.
In our last post we looked at the Rain Forest of the Ocean, the Coral Reefs. I even had the opportunity to introduce some fun facts about coral reefs in my last scuba class, which was a lot of fun and really help bring to the students why buoyancy is so important.
So, some more fun facts about coral reefs
They are home to nearly 1/3 of all know fish species. On your next dive on the coral reef, take a moment and try to count all the fish you see and that is only such a small fraction of what is out there in the ocean.
The Atlantic Ocean only holds about 8% of all the world’s coral reefs with about 70 different coral and 500 fish species. But the Indo-Pacific holds 92% of all the coral reefs with over 700 coral and 4000 fish species. That right there makes me want to go to the Pacific to dive more and more. Imagine all the new creatures just waiting to be discovered. Of all of the 107 known coral families only 8 are found in both oceans.
Scientist and drug companies have found that coral reefs contain many bio-medical compounds including antibiotics, anti-cancer and anti-HIV agents.
Coral Reefs protect over 1/6th of the world’s coast line. In fact if not for coral reefs a lot of the low Caribbean Islands that we all enjoy easy travel to would not exist. In the Maldives around Male, the natural reef had to be replaced to protect the island. The cost of that project was approximately $10,000 per square yard. While the cost to protect the coral reefs is less than $1 per square yard per year.
Coral Reefs are in danger. In 1998, the World Resource Institute estimated that 58% of the coral reefs were at risk. The coral reefs in South and South East Asia, the Caribbean and East Africa are at the greatest risk; while in places such as the Philippines, Jamaica and Indonesia the majority of the reef is already seriously damaged and dead. In 2000, researchers found that 11% of the world’s coral reefs were damaged beyond recovery and by 2004 almost 20% of the coral reefs were dead, partly due to rising temperatures. Some are even forecasting that in the next 30 to 50 years that most of the world’s coral reefs could be gone
Ah, the beautiful coral reefs of the tropical islands that we love to visit and explore and all the little fun creatures that call them home. As a diver we know how fragile and beautiful coral reefs are, after all most places that we go to visit them are now protected areas. We are told from the first day in our open water scuba class not to touch
Much like the rainforest that many activists are working to safe and conserve our version, the coral reefs are a warehouse of amazing biodiversity and is very complex eco system supporting a wide array of creatures. In fact, coral reefs are the habitat and nursery grounds for over 25% of all know marine life. Home to over a quarter of all marine species in only 110,000 square miles of basically the size of the state of Nevada. Our coral reefs are the foundation of life in the ocean, allowing bacteria and algae to coat the sandy bottom or vacant spots in the reef and providing food for the mollusks, crustaceans, sea cucumbers and others.
But, coral reefs are more that home and birthing grounds to the creatures that live there. They also, protect islands and coastal communities from wave damage and erosion. Coral reefs and mangroves will absorb up to 90% of the energy from waves as they race towards the beach. But, coral reefs can also start with a little help from us. The placement of wrecks and even the oil rigs out in the gulf are homes to coral and marine life.
But, coral reefs grow best in water ranging from 64 to 86 degrees and they grow slow. Branching corals such as the staghorn and elkhorn only grow horizontally at a rate of approximately 4 inches per year. Vertical growth varies as well and can be as slow as fractions of an inch a year. One poorly placed fin tip can wipe out a decade or more of growth. And as ocean temps rise the growth rate of our coral reefs can slow and even kill them.
You can learn how to help protect or coral reefs in a Peak Performance Buoyancy clinic or class.