Coral reefs likely inspired tales of underwater kingdoms filled with fanciful structures abuzz with life and activity. But these living habitats, teeming with a diversity of life, are vitally important to us and play a crucial role in the greater health of the planet.
If reefs could talk they might tell of their importance throughout history as sources of food and materials for tool-making and art pieces. Some coral reefs may have thrived hundreds of years before explorers crossed the oceans and some are believed to outdate the oldest Redwood giants. Though today they cover less than 1% of the earth’s surface, reefs continue to be enormously valuable worldwide with many cultures relying heavily on them for food, protection, and jobs.
The diversity of life thriving within reefs is important for the success of fisheries and tourism and supports billions in economies worldwide. Every year avid divers and snorkelers venture to the reefs to enjoy the rich sea life and pour millions into coastal economies around the world through dive tours, recreational fishing, and more.
Coral reefs are important to shoreline preservation. They act as an important buffer against strong waves and devastating storms, not only protecting the natural coastline, but also preventing an untold amount of financial loss to coastal communities.
Coral reefs are sources of survival for mankind because, like rainforests, coral reefs are referred to as natural medicine cabinets. Living in the reefs could be treatments for yet-to-be-cured illnesses. Coral reefs just might hold the key to a healthier future and longer survival for humans.
Yet, ironically, many human activities are damaging these vital living habitats. Some reefs appear to be gone completely and others are rapidly dying. Coral destruction brings a loss of habitat for thousands of other organisms. It leaves coastlines and the communities in them vulnerable to the powers of oceans and destructive weather. The thriving nature of coral reefs depends on proper stewardship. There are many, including scientists here at the Virginia Aquarium, who are working to create sustainable practices that can be both beneficial to us and promote the future survival of this amazing ecosystem.