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Coral Reefs – The Most Threatened Ecosystem on Earth

Coral Reefs – The Most Threatened Ecosystem on Earth

Sun, 07 October 2018

Life without the vast submarine structures created by marine polyps is hard to imagine for Small Island and coastal people like the Seychellois nation. Our very existence depends on them. The reality is, they face increasing threats of disappearance from the effects of climate change and human activities. But all is not lost.

Coral reefs offer protection from direct hit by wave energy and are also importantly are home to a myriad of marine life from planktons to large fish. Globally, coral reefs cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor though they are home to almost a quarter of marine fish species, in addition to many other marine lives.

In the Seychelles context coral reef ecosystem supports the artisanal fishing industry and also tourism. Many of the sea food used in the Seychelles’ Creole cuisine like octopus, crustaceans and a great variety of pelagic fish are from the reefs. A large number of Seychellois households depend on the reefs for their livelihood, whether directly or indirectly. Worldwide, it is estimated that coral reefs directly support over 500 million people.

Despite the socio-economic and environmental benefits of coral reefs they are increasingly suffering from the effects of marine pollution and human activities by the very fishing and tourism industries that they support. Plus there are the added effects of climate change. Corals are very sensitive to changes in temperature.

 The Seychelles lost almost 90% of its corals found in shallow waters in 1998 and 2016 to coral bleaching. When conditions such as the temperature change, corals expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, responsible for their colour. A spike of 1–2°C in ocean temperatures sustained over several weeks can lead to bleaching, turning corals white. If corals are bleached for prolonged periods, they eventually die.

On a local scale, a lot is being done by government, NGOs and private businesses towards coral restoration as a way to bring our reefs back to life. They have produced encouraging results.

On a larger scale, the Seychelles with assistance from The Nature Conservancy is developing its Marine Spatial Plan (the first in the Western Indian Ocean and second largest in the world) to identify new marine protected areas and develop zones that will support the Blue Economy agenda for sustainable and diversified economy for fisheries and tourism. The main goal is for 30% of the territorial sea and EEZ to be zoned in high and medium biodiversity protection areas.

On a global scale there is the fight to get countries to abide by the Paris Agreement on climate change, limiting global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°Centigrade.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also recommends a move away from current economic thinking to include the benefits provided by coral reefs, which are currently not taken into account in mainstream business and finance. Therefore, sustaining and restoring coral reefs should be treated as an asset, and long-term investments should be made for their preservation.

Investments should also include support for research at the frontiers of biology, such as genetic selection of heat-resistant corals that can withstand rising global temperatures. 

These measures provide the only chances for survival of coral reefs globally.

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