This text will identify how the coral reef ecosystem functions, its components, including its biotic, abiotic, biogeochemical services, carbon cycle, and examine some of the threats both natural and man-made that coral-reefs are presently facing and can be anticipated to face into the future, such as damage to its resilience and the loss of its capacity to provide ecological facilities into the future. Conservation methods will be examined as to what the best methods of preserving the elements of the reefs are, both locally, and its broader marine environment.
Coral reefs are composed of some of the most unique ecosystems in the world, with thousands of different species inhabiting its areas. They provide for a wide array of goods and services such as seafood, tourism and recreation, bleaching, as well as providing scientific research into marine species and its environment. Coral reefs are estimated to comprise only about 0.1 to 0.5% of the ocean floor (Grenfell 1997), yet close to 1/3 of the marine fish can be discovered on coral reefs (McAlister 1991). Coral reefs, operate by the identical laws as similar ecosystems, however, there is a propensity to regard them as unique as a result of their structural intricacy and high internal cycling. In terms of biotic functions within the ecosystem, coral reefs provide one the most diverse areas for nourishing a wide variety of different species. Often, the species are an integral part of maintaining the coral reef itself, providing it with the resilience necessary to resist the effects of degradation and erosion over time. Another biotic function involves the migration of species such as marine fish and urchin, providing a transfer of sustenance from one area to another, reinforcing sea grass, algae with necessary nutrients.
Abiotic functions of coral reefs involve their influence on the natural environment with respect to areas such as light, motion, temperature, depth and nutrients. These factors determine a given organism’s ability to survive in the habitat. For example, the amount of exposure to light has an influence on the growth rate of plants.
The Biogeochemical cycle refers to the flow of matter, both Biotic and Abiotic, through a retraction of the geological, biological, and chemical components of the various cycles. A continuous recycling of the living cells is necessary in order for organisms to survive. Common coral reef cycles include; Carbon, nutrient, water, phosphorous and oxygen cycles.
The coral reef carbon cycle is unique in that includes both biotic (photosynthesis and respiration) and abiotic functions, carbon metabolism. Due to the carbon production, coral reefs act as a significant contributor to C02 sources in the environment.
Human activity in the coral reefs is one of the main factors in their degradation and decline. Depletion of resources results from over-fishing, leaving the remaining stock vulnerable to natural disasters. Oil Drilling and coal mining are especially destructive as they remove resources and pollute the waters in the same process, weakening its stability and leaving invulnerable to the invasion of another organism such as Algae. In order for coral reefs to be sustainable into the future, it is imperative that man curtail his commercial activities in these waters. Too much tourism can also impact the delicate balance that exists.
Going forward, in order for coral reefs to maintain their supply of fish, strict limits must be enforced to protect against over-fishing. Many of the more destructive forms of fishing such as dynamite and cyanide fishing should be banned outright. Replenishment of corals can now be accomplished by artificial means by a process defined as mineral accretion, whereby limestone can be integrated with small amount of electricity, providing a good habitat for juvenile coral to grow. Institutions such as the “Global Coral Reef Alliance, that produce coral, and do research and development on reversing the damage done to coral reefs” (GCRA 2015) should be on everyone’s list of institutions to support, that cares about the preserving the coral reef ecosystem which is so critical to our own environment.
- Grenfell, Craig, G., 1991. Coral-Reef Management. In: Dubinsky, Z. (Ed.), Ecosystems of the World 25: Coral Reefs. Elsevier, New York, pp. 453 – 467.
- McAllister, D.E., 1991. What is the status of the world’s coral reef fishes? Sea Wind 5, 14 – 18.
- Global Coral Reef Alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.globalcoral.org/