Coral Reef Conservation Policy
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Coral reefs are found in warm, clear, shallow waters of tropical oceans all over the world. These ecosystems cover about one percent of the EarthÕs surface but they contain the highest degree of biological diversity of any marine ecosystem. For example, there are about eight hundred species of hard coral and an estimated eight million have not yet been discovered (Briggs, 2005). These ecosystems are also known as the most biologically productive communityÕs in the world because they provide food, protection and shelter for millions of fish and invertebrate species.
Coral reef ecosystems have and continue to be an important resource for local and non-local human communities. Many communities are dependent on the natural resources provided by these reefs for survival. It has been estimated that about a half a billion people, globally, live within sixty two miles of a coral reef and benefit from their resources (2000). Local communities also benefit, economically, from tourists who visit these beautiful sites.
Due to the biodiversity of these ecosystems many government and non-government organizations, world-wide, have taken measures to protect coral reef sites. Many conservation efforts have been attempted but have not been successful. Conservation policies have been established but have not been enforced or monitored allowing for the exploitation of reef resources. Exploitation continues to decrease the diversity of coral reef ecosystems and does not allow for the proper recovery for survival.
Coral reefs thrive in nutrient-poor tropical waters and support 100 times more life than the surrounding water. These ecosystems are the most biologically productive systems in the world. Their structure makes them ideal habitats for fish, lobsters, crabs and other invertebrates. Although they are rare on coral reefs, marine vertebrates such as turtles and dolphins also depend on these systems for feeding grounds (Fujita et al, 1992). The most common example of the biological productivity of coral reefs is the nutrient recycling process known as symbiosis. Many species living within coral reefs are symbiotic, which means that one species depends on the other for survival. One example of such process occurs between corals and the unicellular algae called zooxanthellae. The algae live within the coral polyps and give off oxygen and other nutrients required by the coral. In return, the coral polyps give off carbon dioxide that the algae need for photosynthesis (2004).
The biological diversity of coral reef ecosystems allows for the representation of a great deal of genetic diversity needed to understand the adaptation to environmental change in both an anthropogenic and natural aspect (Fujita et al, 1992). Other than genetic diversity coral reefs also play an important role in protecting shores from erosion by providing a protective barrier of a buffer around many islands and coasts (2000).
Coral reef ecosystems are an important resource for many human communities because they depend on their natural resources for survival. It has been estimated that about half a billion people, globally, live within sixty two miles of a coral reef and benefit from their resources (2000). For example, many people depend on the organisms found in reefs as a food source. Resources from these ecosystems provide food for an estimated billion people in Asia alone (2000).
Tourists visiting these beautiful sites also provide an income for local communities. Coral reef sites have become a popular destination for scuba divers, snorkelers and fishers. There are many businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and diving tours that are near these reefs, which provide many people with jobs as well as support the regions economy (Parrish, 2005).
Coral reefs can also benefit communities outside of their local boundaries. For example, coral reef resources provide the global economy with about three hundred seventy five billion dollars per year (Parrish, 2005). There is also a possibility that in the future natural products derived from reef organisms can be used for pharmaceuticals which may provide cures for cancer, arthritis and viruses (Parrish, 2005).
Threats and Hazards
These highly diverse and productive ecosystems are currently threatened by many hazards due to both human activities and natural causes. Over fishing and over exploitation of coral species for recreational and commercial purposes has become a major problem. Improper fishing strategies are commonly known to damage and degrade coral habitats. For example, monofilament fish lines left behind after fishing have been known to entangle corals causing the breakage of coral branches or even death (Yoshikawa 2004). Corals have the capability to recover from small wounds but it is difficult to recover from damage to a large area (Yoshikawa 2004). Pollution, introduction of invasive species, dredging and shoreline modifications, and vessel anchoring are also examples of anthropogenic factors contributing to reef deterioration. Although these factors all directly impact reef survival we have also indirectly impacted their survival. For example, humans continue to emit chlorofluorocarbons, which continue to increase the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This, in turn, warms the planet including the temperature of the ocean. These extreme changes in global climate cause stress to the reefs. These stresses make it difficult for them to survive and allows for such things as coral disease outbreaks and coral bleaching to occur at an increasing rate. In many areas coral bleaching has reduced coral coverage by ninety seven percent (Borneman, 2005).
There are currently about 691 organizations dedicated to the conservation of coral reefs. These organizations are both non-government and government agencies. The government has spent over $100 million on the restoration of coral reefs (Birkeland, 2004). Restoration efforts include conducting long-term assessments and monitoring of coral reef health and trends, reduction of habitat destruction, reduction of pollution, and reduction of the impacts caused by international trade of coral reef species (2000).
Although these efforts have been put in place they have not been successful. Restoration efforts have focused on a select number of conservation priorities and usually one reef system alone. Conservation priorities have focused on the biological diversity of hotspots found on tropical reefs around the world. These hotspots have been chosen based on two criteria: 1) regions that harbor a great diversity of species and, 2) these species are endemic to the region (Briggs, 2005). To reduce degradation threats all factors and reef systems must be targeted simultaneously.
Coral reefs are located worldwide and are found within the boundaries of different countries but, rather than developing an overall restoration plan each country has its own criteria for reef restoration. This means that the reef system found along the United States Florida Keys does not follow the same restoration criteria as the Great Barrier reefs off the coast of Australia. There are many international organizations that were established to set a uniform set of criteria but not all nations have agreed to join these organizations. Even the countries that have accepted uniform initiatives are only obligated to follow the initiatives minimally and have the freedom to change the criteria to suit their current needs (2007).
Coral Reef Task Force
The Coral Reef Task Force is an executive order established in 1998 by President William J. Clinton. Their goals are to gain a better understanding of coral reef ecosystems as well as the natural and anthropogenic processes that determine their health and viability. In addition, the task forced wanted to quickly reduce any unfavorable impacts of human activities on coral reefs and associated ecosystems
International Coral Reef Initiatives (CRI)
The International Coral Reef Initiative (CRI) was an effort presented at the 1994 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This initiative has been supported by Japan, France, Australia, Jamaica, Philippines, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. Their goals are to expand the implementation of programs for conservation, restoration and management to local and international governments and organizations. They also plan to strengthen the capacity for development and implementation of management policies, research, and monitoring of these ecosystems. Finally, they plan to establish and maintain the organization of international and national research and monitoring programs to guarantee efficient use of resources and information flow.
Reef Relief is nonprofit organization in Key West, Florida dedicated to preserving and protecting coral reef ecosystems through local and international efforts. The organizations main focus is on rigorous science to educate the public and help policymakers to achieve conservation, protection, and restoration of coral reefs.
Reef Guardian International
This organization was established to protect coral reefs and their marine life worldwide. Some of their goals are to fight to create coral reef marine protected areas, stop dredging and burials of reefs and prevent ship threats to reefs. They also plan to fight to halt fishing gear damage to reefs and actualizing the United States coral reef action strategy.
Coral Reef Alliance
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is a non-profit organization established to protect the health of coral reefs by integrating ecosystem management, sustainable tourism, and community partnerships. This alliance set to work with communities to identify and solve conservation challenges and change the attitudes and behavior through education and training. They also provide resources to strengthen conservation efforts and create incentives for sustainable tourism.
Conservation efforts have been put in place but have not been enforced nor monitored allowing for our society to continue exploiting reef resources decreasing their diversity and chances for recovery and survival. The only way to achieve the goal of reversing reef damage is to consider all threats at a global level. It is necessary to look at reef recovery as a global rather than local management. It is difficult to control pollution, over fishing, diseases, and climate change on a small scale. Finally, clear conservation goals need to be set so as not to limit the ability of reef recovery. Based on these grounds coral reef conservation can only be successful if governments, world wide, unite to develop global conservation restoration efforts.
Birkeland, C. 2004. Ratcheting Down the Coral Reefs. University of Hawaii. BioScience. 54:1021-1027.
Borneman, E. Weiner, D. 2005. Reef Protection International. Earth Island Journal.
Briggs, J. C. 2005. Coral Reefs: Conserving the Evolutionary Sources. University of Georgia. Biological Conservation. 126:297-305.
Fujita, R. M. et al. 1992. A Guide to Protecting Coral Reefs. Environmental Defense Fund, Global Coral Reef Alliance, Environmental Solutions International.
Jokiel, P. L. Brown, E. K. 2004. Global Warming, Regional Trends and Inshore Environmental Conditions Influence Coral Bleaching in Hawaii. Hawaii Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program. Global Change Biology. 10: 1627-1641.
Parrish, M. 2005. Are U.S. Coral Reefs on the Slippery Slope to Slime? Policy Forum. Science. 307: 1725-1726.
Yoshikawa, T. Asoh, K. 2004. Entanglement of Monofilament Fishing Lines and Coral Deaths. University of Hawaii at Manoa. Biological Conservation. 117: 557-560.
1997. International Year of the Reef. NOAA Coral Reef Initiative. www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov.
2000. The National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs. United States Coral Reef Task Force. Washington D.C.
2004. Coral Reef Symbiosis. Jason Education Project: Ocean World. Texas A & M University. http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/students/coral/coral3.htm
2007. ICRI: The International Coral Reef Initiative www.icriforum.org
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Tropical Marine Ecology of the Bahamas and Florida Keys
Tropical Ecosystems of Costa Rica
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