Coral reefs are large structures composed of skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called corals. Each coral is called a polyp. They are massive formations between the surface and the first few tens of meters deep. Reefs occupy less than 0.2% of the sea bed, yet they run along more than 1,50,000km of the coastline in more than 100 countries and territories.
Coral reefs have a vast impact on humans as well as marine organisms by safeguarding from sea storms and as well acting as a source of food.
Coral reefs have rough surfaces and complex structures that absorb the force of the waves, they buffer shorelines from currents, waves, and storms, helping to prevent life losses, property damages, and erosion. They as well reduce the damage in case of storms or hurricanes and in some ways to dissipate the humongous energy of the tsunami. Their impact is so immense that men mimic immersing concrete structures along some of the fragile coasts. Without their protective role, some countries like the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands would have ceased to exist. They stand solely on coral reefs and wouldn’t have existed without their protective fringe.
However, the coastal developments and polluted runoff from coastal areas can adversely impact the health of the coral reefs and pollute and damage them over the long term. To curb this shortcoming we should start practising and protecting the sensitive coral ecosystem and the creatures that reside there.
Different species of coral produce different defensive compounds to resist attacks from other marine creatures like nudibranchs and sponges. Searching for potential new pharmaceuticals is termed as bioprospecting which has been common for decades but at this age, it is prospering at a very high speed. Creatures found in the coral ecosystem are found to be important ingredients and sources of new medicines and are being wired upon to treat cancer, arthritis, asthma, ulcers, human bacterial infections, heart diseases, viruses, and other human diseases as well as sources of nutritional supplements, enzymes, and cosmetics.
Millions of organisms underwater live on the food resources produced by the coral reefs hence providing a worldwide food source for over a billion people many of whom don’t even live near them. Approximately half of all federally managed fisheries in the United States depend on coral reefs and related habitats for the portion of their life cycle. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates the annual commercial value of U.S.A.’s fisheries from coral reefs to be over $100 million. Reef based recreational fisheries from coral reefs generate over $100 million annually in the U.S.A. These, numerical however do not take into account the deep-sea corals which are themselves home to many commercially valuable species and thus additional fishery values.
Millions of people every year come to visit the coastline to visit the coral reefs by snorkelling and scuba diving. Tourists visit the beaches protected by these reefs. Local economies are run by these recreational spots and earn billions of dollars through visitors and diving tours. Hotels, restaurants, recreational fishing trips as well as other businesses, which are based near the reef-ecosystem, will benefit.
About the author: Soumi Lahiri, a law student who thrives to make this world a better place not only for humans but also for all the co-existing organisms on earth.