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South Florida Aquatic Environments

Coral Reefs



IMPORTANCE OF CORAL REEFS
Shoreline Activities
courtesy NOAA
People


Human impacts on coral includes:
Coral reefs are threated by human activities throughout the world. In southeast Asia, the hot spot of coral diversity, more than 80% of the reefs are at risk from coastal development and harmful fishing practices.

Macroalgae
courtesy South Florida Water Management District
Codium

Pollution

  • Population growth and development threaten the survival of coral reefs
Population growth and urban development currently rank among the greatest threats to coral reefs. Development activities cause erosion, resulting in the run-off of sediments which eventually reaching the reefs. Also stormwater runoff carries fertilizers and sewage into the ocean, damaging coral reefs. Increase of nutrient concentrations within the reef environment is followed by increase of algae, which may smother corals. Whether it is from direct sedimentation or an increase in turbidity from nutrient-loading, the amount of sunlight reaching the corals is reduced.




Shrimp Boats
courtesy NOAA
Shrimp Boats

Overfishing

  • Overfishing has altered ecological dynamics of marine communities
Along with human population growth, the harvest of resources from the sea is ever-increasing. Overfishing has changed the ecological dynamics of marine communities, allowing some organisms to dominate reefs that once were kept in check by large reef fish populations. Fishing practices have also become more destructive as fish populations decrease. In some regions, indiscriminate fish traps are used while in other areas the use of dynamite and cyanide have become common practice.




Recreational SCUBA Diver
courtesy NOAA
Recreational SCUBA Diver

Tourism

  • Increase in tourism is responsible for increase in reef damage
Coral reefs attract ecotourists, bringing much needed currency to tropical regions. Ironically, the increase in ecotourism is usually accompanied by an increase in reef damage. Divers and snorkelers may harm the corals by touching the polyps, while the boats transporting ecotourists to the reef may damage the reef by dragging anchors. Although ecotourism is responsible for reef damage, if it is carefully managed and monitored, ecotourism may actually help preserve these valuable habitats.




Marine Collectibles
© Jan Bester
Curios

Aquarium and Souvenir Trade

  • Fish and invertebrates are harvested from the world's coral reefs
Many species of fish and invertebrates are harvested from the world's coral reefs for the aquarium industry. Unfortunately, poisons such as cyanide are often used in the Indo-Pacific region, causing the deaths of many fish and surrounding corals. After the live fish are collected, up to half die as a result of poisoning or stress. Those that do survive have high mortality rates in home aquaria due to dietary and physical requirements. Corals and shells are also collected throughout the world and sold as souvenirs to tourists, made into jewelry, or exported as curios.


Climate Change Research - Data Collection
courtesy NOAA
Climate research

Global Climate Change

  • Rising sea temperatures cause coral bleaching
Global climate change may cause increases in sea temperature and sea level as well as ocean current patterns, all of which can cause damage to reefs. Corals are very sensitive to water temperature changes, with rises in temperature resulting in coral bleaching episodes.