Coral Reef Roundup
There's been lots of news from the world of coral reefs lately--some good, some not so good. Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the world's oceans but contain about 25% of all identified marine species. They are highly susceptible to many environmental hazards, such as pollution, destructive fishing practices, and the harmful effects of climate change, particularly ocean acidification. Along with rainforests and mangroves, coral reefs are one of the island ecosystems most in need of protection, and the setting of many Seacology projects.
· The world's largest coral reef, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, suffered severe damage to the coral's structure and health of its surrounding waters when a Chinese coal carrying ship hit the reef two weeks ago. The wreck created a 2-mile long scar on the reef, and released gallons of coal and oil pollutants into the protected habitat. Ecologists estimate that recovery could take up to two decades. With coral reefs among the world's most threatened habitats, this is grim news for the future of corals and all the wildlife they foster.
· Perhaps even more sobering is the recent report on the extent of the devastation that would be caused should coral reefs go extinct. A recent study indicated that with 19% of the world's coral reefs already lost, corals could disappear entirely within 100 years. Some scientists believe that without corals, the collapse of other marine ecosystems would soon follow. Nearly half of the world's fish depend on coral reefs, and billions of people around the world rely on them for food and livelihood. "A world without coral reefs is unimaginable," said NOAA director and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco.
· In brighter coral news, Seacology recently launched a coral protection project in the Cook Islands. Scattered across central Polynesia, the Cook Islands contain hundreds of miles of coral atolls and tropical lagoons. Inhabited by Polynesians since the 6th century, the islands were not discovered by Europeans until hundreds of years later, and were named after the 18th century explorer Captain James Cook. Formerly under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, the Cook Islands are now independently governed.
The largest of the fifteen islands, Rarotonga, is encircled by shallow lagoons and coral reefs. On its southeast shore lies Muri Beach, a popular tourist destination that features beaches and lagoons as well as coral reefs. Muri's corals were recently threatened by preparations for the 2009 Pacific Mini Games; plans included clearing a large portion of the lagoon for boating events. With the local community adamant about conserving their lagoon and natural resources, this development was soon halted, and the village now seeks to establish permanent conservation restrictions for the area.
Seacology has partnered with the community in Muri Village to preserve the local coral reef and surrounding lagoon. The village will declare 413 acres of reef, lagoon, and adjacent beach protected area and in exchange Seacology will renovate the village meeting house and re-roof the village health clinic. With the exception of subsistence fishing for community use only, the protected area will be restricted from all harvesting of coral, fish, birds, mammals, and other marine life, and from sand mining of the beach for a minimum of 10 years.
Seacology is thrilled to be adding another coral reef to the growing number of protected reefs around the world. Another reef saved means more critical habitat protected for the birds, fish, marine mammals, and humans that rely on these amazing ecosystems.