When confronted with the prospect of species extinction, most people's knee-jerk reaction is to say "save these animals"! That's true for rhinos, tigers and of course, for coral reefs, which we know are dying off due to rising ocean temperatures, pollution and even deforestation on land. But how much do you actually know about corals -- the tiny marine animals that create these reefs? Do you know how they reproduce? How they are affected by the most innocuous-seeming things like sunscreen?
In this enlightening TED talk, coral reef biologist Kristen Marhaver expands on the finer details of what corals actually are, hoping to get people past the superficial "save the coral reefs" mindset, and into a real love for these "funny, interesting and beautiful" creatures.
That phrase ["save the coral reefs"] bothers me. We've been sounding the alarm about corals for decades. And yet, almost everyone I meet, no matter how well-educated, isn't sure what a coral is, or where they come from. How can we get someone to care about the world's coral reefs when it's an abstract thing they can barely understand? So let's change that.
If we want to avoid more bleached coral reefs, as in the one seen above, then Marhaver has a point: it goes back to one of the underlying tenets of biophilia: that we can't save what we don't love, or even know about. (Hence the importance of an ecological education -- a basic understanding of how ecosystems work and our place in it -- in all disciplines.)
So it appears that when one looks closer, we see that corals are tiny living creatures that can reproduce asexually, but also sexually using female eggs and male sperm, forming colonies that become bio-diverse ecosystems for all sorts of marine life.
Marhaver talks about her and her team's experience in the lab, trying to find ways to help Caribbean corals reproduce. They've discovered that corals prefer white and pink surfaces over dark ones, and like to nest in crevices. They're trying to discover what types of bacteria help coral growth, and what kind of accessory structures (coral-friendly sea walls, for example) might help give corals a boost in rebuilding reefs.
Marhaver points out how advances in medicine and technology are outstripping relatively more primitive "conservation technology." It may perhaps not only be a problem of technology, but also a problem of deeper awareness in the end: we can't blindly save an idea. We have to know firsthand what we are losing, really deeply feel an affinity for life and that applies to every threatened species, including the corals. More over at TED.