Drawn like bees to a flower, we soak in the tantalizingly beautiful shapes and colors of creatures both familiar and bizarre that mix and mingle to create a coral reef. A living structure of calcium carbonate that supports one of the most diverse habitats on earth, and also one of the most economically important engines for the United States worth untold billions. In light of their recognized importance, and increasing threat, NOAA has declared that 2008 is the international year of the reef.Coral reefs are a popular topic here at Treehugger, sometimes referred to as the 'rainforests of the sea', they harbor over a quarter of all known marine life, yet occupy as little as 1% of the ocean floor (I figure they deserve all the attention). Jeremy just wrote an excellent outlook of ocean reefs for 2008. But if you missed it, reefs face serious challenges; ocean acidification, agricultural run-off, pollution, and tourism to name just a few.
Acting as safe harbor for marine species, the biodiversity found in reefs helps to increase the resilience of our fisheries, providing food (and jobs) to millions of people around the world. The reefs also keep ocean storms in check, breaking up the powerful swells that can flood coastal cities.
Reefs not only provide jobs in the form of tourism and food, but also medicine. The cone snail alone has been a boon to medical science, providing us with treatments for intractable pain, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative disorders. As we learn more about the coral reef, we increasingly find new species, new functions, and realize how much our marine ecosystems depend on reefs.
In truth we can never know the true value of a coral reef. But it has become evident that the reefs of the world are more important than we ever suspected, and in more danger than we would like to think. Our fortunes, economic and otherwise are twined with the natural world. Learn more about coral reefs, what we know, and how to protect them at IYOR.org.