Published on 06/03,2013

When someone asks you to explain what a coral reef is, the usual response is a description of a beautiful picturesque site of colour and clear water, interrupted by streaks of shining fish every shape and size imaginable. Currently, this picture is what we all know and love coral reefs to be, but sadly this may not be forever.

58% of our coral reefs are threatened by humans. They range 1/6 of the world’s coastline and support numerous species, acting as great biodiversity hotspots and tourist attractions. Unfortunately, the world’s coral reefs are under tremendous pressure. Forgive me if this comes across as a bit of a biology lesson, but sometimes all it takes is a simple explanation to turn some ones light bulb on. Human activities such as deforestation, development (urban and rural) and agriculture place massive amounts of pollution and nutrients into the ocean. This causes eutrophication. Eutrophication is when a great deal of nutrients is placed in water resulting in oxygen depletion due to consumers readily taking up the nutrients. This process ends with coral reef degradation. Because coral reefs are home to a diverse array of marine organisms, it is an important challenge to find out whether these organisms have other places to go when their homes become degraded, or if they are geographically restricted and so too have to face the same fate.

A study by Roberts et al. (2002) takes on this challenge to examine the geographical ranges of specific organisms, showing that 7.2%-53.6% of four phyla (reef fish, snails, corals and lobsters) have restricted ranges within coral reefs and are thus at the risk of extinction. The study also shows that 58.6% of coral reefs hold the top ten areas of richest endemism (being unique to a geographic location) AND includes 44.8%-54.2% of restricted range species. Using these four phyla to show how degradation of coral reefs is affecting biodiversity, readers can see why (and hopefully how) we can use conservation practices to solve this problem. It also shows the need for conservation of coral reef ‘wilderness’ and not only the coral reef ‘hot spots’.

Marine species are commonly thought to be resilient to extinction because of their enormous geographic range sizes (which are not restricted by roads, fences, people as terrestrial species are), but the data shown in this article contradicts this. Because coral reefs are tourism attractions, few have been left untouched by humans. This is the continuing battle of how to try and conserve this beautiful biodiversity without hindering the countries’ capital gain from it. We already have seen the detrimental effects of tourism on coral reefs. Areas are out fished (with destructive methods such as dynamite and poison), but are never sectioned off to the public because of the substantial income that these tourists generate. After all, it seems to be our very own human nature that drives us to over exploit what has been given to us, the term ‘tragedy of the commons’ most certainly comes to mind...

I liked this article because conservation biology is one of my deep interests. It is an aspect of my marine biology career where I feel completely motivated to be a part of. I feel that conservation is a major ‘key word’ used today and that world is finally becoming more aware of the consequences of their actions.

The conservation strategies posed by this article are logical ideas that I, and I’m sure many other biologists, have never considered. The idea of a two pronged conservation strategy whereby conservation extends to biodiversity hotspots and general reef wilderness, together with terrestrial biodiversity conservation practices, is undeniably exceptional and logical. Because the pollution that pollutes our ocean comes from the land practices that humans carry out, terrestrial conservation needs to be integrated with marine conservation in order for a well established conservation foundation to be established. I’m not sure if I have simply been naive on this matter, but I have never thought about integrating a terrestrial management plan with a marine one. Because the problems are as a consequence of one another, naturally so should be the solution. Obviously climate change mitigation should also need to be considered for all aspects of coral reef degradation to be challenged. All these key aspects play a role in the altering of coral reefs and will cause many more precarious outcomes if left ignorant.

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