Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

UPSC Civils Daily Mains Question 21st April 2020

Coral reefs play an essential role in everything from water filtration and fish reproduction to shore line protection and erosion prevention. What is the importance of coral reefs? Discuss the impact of climate change on coral reefs. Suggest measures to protect coral reefs.

 A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Corals reefs are one of the most diverse habitats in the ocean. It is commonly known as the rainforest of oceans. Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth.

Importance of Coral reefs:

  • Coral reefs play an essential role in everything from water filtration and fish reproduction to shore line protection and erosion prevention.
  • They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment.
  • Its biodiversity helps in finding new medicines.
  • Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.
  • Healthy coral reefs support commercial and subsistence fisheries
  • It promotes jobs and businesses through tourism and recreation.
  • They reduce the damage in case of storms, hurricanes and tsunamis by absorbing wave energy and contribute to environmental protection through the reduction of coastal erosion.
  • Reefs also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast.
  • They protect ecosystems located between the reefs and coasts, such as seagrass and lagoon.
  • When reefs are damaged or destroyed, the absence of this natural barrier can increase the damage to coastal communities from normal wave action and violent storms.

Impact of climate change on coral reefs:

Coral reefs are fragile because they are sensitive to water conditions. They are under threat from excess nutrients, rising temperatures, ocean acidification, overfishing, sunscreen use, and harmful land-use practices, including runoff and seeps. Many of these threats can stress corals, leading to coral bleaching and possible death of these delicate ecosystems.  Changing climate intensifies the coral bleaching there by devastating the coral reefs.

Rising sea surface temperatures: Mass coral bleaching generally happens when temperatures around coral reefs exceed 1 degree Celsius. Sea surface temperature increases global warming due to anthropogenic activities.

Ocean Acidification: There is an ongoing decrease in the pH of oceans through uptake of anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. the decrease in pH, will have negative consequences on the coral reefs.

Changes in storm patterns: leads to stronger and more frequent storms that can cause the destruction of coral reefs.

Changes in precipitation: increased runoff of freshwater, sediment, and land-based pollutants contribute to algal blooms and cause murky water conditions that reduce light.

Severe weather events

Increased frequency of severe weather events, such as cyclones and record rainfall levels can destroy reef structures and send an influx of freshwater and sediment further out from the coast on to the Reef.

Rising sea levels: Due to global warming there has been sea level rise and sedimentation resulting in sedimentation runoff which can lead to the smothering of coral.

Subaerial Exposure: Sudden exposure of reef flat corals to the atmosphere during events such as extreme low tides may induce bleaching

Solar radiation: depletion of ozone layer, increases of ultraviolet radiations will affect corals adversely.

Measures to protect coral reefs:

  • Reduce Pollution: Prevent chemicals and trash from flowing into the water systems.
  • Conserve Water. The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater that eventually find their ways back into the ocean.
  • Long-lasting light bulbs: Energy efficient light bulbs reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Avoid Litter on the beach or in the ocean: Leaving behind things like fishing nets or general garbage on a beach can harm coral reefs.
  • Recycle and dispose of trash properly
  • Minimize use of fertilizers
  • Use environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.
  • Reduce storm water runoff.
  • Avoid striking or touching a coral reef
  • Save energy at home and at work
  • Reducing the use of lawn and garden chemicals.
  • Reducing the dump of household chemicals in storm drains

The need of the hour is to protect coral reefs by reducing and eventually eliminating dumping materials and chemicals, reduce fishing and monitor the water quality of run-off directed toward the reef. Healthy reefs lead to healthy oceans, and healthy oceans are vital to all life on Earth.


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