Coral reefs harbor a greater diversity of animals than any other environment in the sea. Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been protected as a marine reserve and is a mecca for scientists and nature enthusiasts. Many reefs have been depleted of fish and runoff from the shore has covered the reefs in sediment. Nearly all the changes in the reefs can be linked to human activity.
What kinds of activities do you think might be contributing to the decline of the reefs? What are some reasons to be concerned about this decline. Do you think the situation is likely to improve or worsen in the future? Why? What can be done and what is being done?
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While reef habitats appear to be robust enough to withstand almost anything, they are extremely fragile. Not only are most corals brittle, but they usually need pristine, clear, warm, relatively nutrient-free waters to survive. Over the past 50 years, humans have put an enormous amount of pressure on coral reef environments by altering their waters and tearing up their foundations. From dynamite fishing to global warming, we are rapidly sending the world's reefs into oblivion. The latest reports state that as much as 27 percent of monitored reef formations have been lost and as much as 32 percent are at risk of being lost within the next 32 years.
The corals are at the center of a complex food web. When they die, thousands of other species are in jeopardy. People in some developing nations are dependent on the coral reef communities for their food or livelihoods.
Corals also contain toxins that offer promise for cancer research and chemical compounds that could be used to make new medicines. "But we are just in the infancy of doing those kinds of studies," said Johns Hopkins University biologist Gary K. Ostrander.
Coral deaths may signal serious, as-yet unidentified environmental ills
The paper, essentially an overview of declining coral reef health, will be published on April 25 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Ostrander co-authored a scientific paper about the worldwide threat with biologist William J. Meehan, a doctoral student in his laboratory.
"We are pointing out that these corals are dying all over the world," Ostrander said. Scientists do not know what is causing the coral reef deterioration, which has accelerated dramatically since the early ...