Trash. Carbon dioxide. Stress. Bombs. These factors represent human impact on nature. Human beings have a tendency to always want more and destroy as we go.
There are attempts to help the trail we trampled. Recycling lessons have been taught for years to schoolchildren, especially to save our forests. Those forests, however, are above the waterline. Equally important is what lies below — the coral reefs.
Coral reefs contribute nearly $375 billion to our economy each year through goods and services, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Reefs also protect our land from destruction caused by storms.
But they have been damaged by humans. Often the damage is not visible because most commonly seen are the reefs that are tourist attractions, which are beautiful and colorful. Humans have destroyed reefs by dissolving them, filling them with garbage, bleaching and even bombing them.
Research has shown that a spike in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has occurred over time. As carbon sinks from the air into the ocean, it joins with water to form carbonic acid. This is known as ocean acidification. When acidification occurs, coral begins to dissolve, according to the Carnegie Institution for Science.
If the acidification continues, the coral reefs will be depleted and no longer serve as coastal barriers to prevent currents from wiping out our coastal lands. The ocean, in the end, will turn against the human race.
In addition to carbon dioxide causing the reefs to dissolve, it is placing stress on the reefs. When carbon dioxide is captured in the atmosphere, it causes the heat from the sun to remain behind, heating the ocean and therefore causing all sorts of changes in the ocean.
All sea life is extremely sensitive to the temperature of the ocean. Heat causes coral polyps in the reef to expel the algae living in them. The algae living in the polyps color the coral, so when the algae is gone, the coral turns white and is now “bleached.” Bleaching weakens the structure of coral and ultimately kills the reefs. Coral bleaching is widespread and occurs in massive amounts due to the large amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
Drifting garbage throughout the ocean is also a leading contributor. Garbage remnants not only entrap fish but also spill out onto the reefs. The Coral Reef Alliance says that trash spills pollutants or chemicals into the oceans which ultimately “increases the level of nitrogen around coral reefs, causing an overgrowth of algae, which smothers reefs by cutting off their sunlight.” In addition to the damage caused by garbage, lost or discarded fishing nets can snag on reefs and strangle fish and other marine mammals.
Blast fishing is another major contributor to the destruction of reefs. Blast fishing involves the bombing of the reefs to capture fish. The Coral Reef Alliance has released information on exploitative fishing, such as blast fishing. That’s when “fish are killed by the shock waves from the blast and are then skimmed off the surface or collected from the bottom by divers. These explosions not only kill large numbers of fish and other marine organisms in the vicinity, but they also destroy the physical structure of coral reefs.”
Bombs take a big toll on coral reefs by destroying the structure, inhibiting growth of new coral and preventing fish from reproducing. Deterioration of the environment happens quickly with explosive fishing.
The environment is more than just the land, and we need to realize that the ocean is just as important. Once we realize this, we must take into consideration how to keep the ocean thriving to prevent irreversible damage.
If the coral reefs disappear, we not only lose a natural beauty, we lose the structure that protects our coastlines and a variety of fish. Reefs are natural barriers that protect our coastlines from washing out, and they are home to thousands of fish. If we keep releasing carbon dioxide, trash and bombs into the ocean, sooner or later we will lose our beloved reefs.
Monica E. Spatafore is a high school senior at Narraguagus High School in Harrington. She plans to major in marine biology when she attends college in the fall.