In recent years, human activities resulting in the overharvesting and pollution of coral reefs have taken a great toll on coral ecosystems. Destructive fishing practices contribute greatly to the failure of coral ecostystems to function. Overfishing leads to the lack (and in some cases extinction) of essential links in the food chain resulting in the starvation of organisms on the higher end of the chain and the overpopulation of organisms on the lower end.
Methods such as expelling cyanide into fishing waters to stun a potential catch not only affects the fish to be caught but all of the organisms living nearby the catch site. Chemicals like cyanide cause paralyzation of fish and marine organisms as well as coral bleaching. The pollution of coral ecosystems is also largely responsible for the degradation and deterioration of coral ecosystems. The direct disposal of hazardous waste (whether it be trash, bottles, oil or radioactive material), in the ocean is the greatest cause of reef deterioration.
Also responsible is the lack of the presence of coastal mangroves, whose roots hold soil in place, therefore minimizing sediment runoff during storms. Mangroves also play an important role in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the reefs and the air, providing an oxygen-rich environment in which marine organisms thrive.
The recreational utilization of coral ecosystems also harms the reefs. Illegal sport fishing is a great problem for coral reefs due to the removal of necessary aspects of coral systems, such as sharks being poached for their dorsal fins. Also, the harvesting of coral, fish, shells and plant life as to be used in pet aquariums or for souveniers inhibit’s the system’s ability to function properly as one thriving unit.
These problems may seem distant, but they are in no way insignificant.
The deterioration of these coral systems not only affects the surrounding marine life, but the stability of surrounding human life as well. In Jamaica, almost all reefs are dead due to overfishing by commercial boats satisfying the needs of ritzy, five-star restaurants in wealthy countries, but causing famine among the country’s inhabitants.
This corruption of the coral systems deprives coastal villages not only of fish to eat, but also of natural resources only harvestable in the presence of the coral reef. And although it is seemingly insignificant, from the perspective of a well-to-do country, what people do not realize is that a great lot of the earth’s population live in third-world countries where food and resources are scarce. There is no justification in the upper class’ living frivolously at the expense of the poverty and starvation of those who are not so lucky.
Reefs also provide resources needed to produce prescription drugs to the modern world and are a valuable resource when it comes to finding cures for diseases. Today, billions of people are dying of incurable diseases having yet to be cured (HIV/AIDS, cancer, leukemia, etc.) whose remedies are believed to rest in the ocean.
Are these priceless sites worth losing, at the cost of possibly salvagable lives, simply so that the unreasonable demands of commerce and recreation are satisfied? Today’s economy is one which thrives on the pleasure and leisure of the people fueling it, but if we do not watch our consumption of the earth, these standards may find themselves less than possible. Coral ecosystems not only provide food and medicine to this modern society, but also support tourism, the production of cosmetics, textiles and many other aspects of the economy, but by overutilizing the resourcefulness of the coral reefs, people will find themselves confronted with a dead end of the modern leisure that they so enjoy. Although seemingly unlikely, humans depend greatly upon coral reefs to provide them with many things they take for granted; a problem which must be resolved with urgency if people expect the environment to continue to support them with its resources.