Coral Reef Decline
by Chuck Gestefield on Feb 06, 2019
We had some time to sit down with the Alex Neufeld, the Data Manager from Coral Restoration Foundation™, and asked him a few questions about the main causes of decline in coral reef ecosystems, specifically in the Florida Keys.
What are some of the biggest issues facing coral reefs today?
Alex: Well, first and foremost, one of the biggest issues facing coral reefs today is global climate change and in the keys, we're certainly not immune to things like rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. All of this stuff has very, very negative impacts on our corals specifically in the Florida Keys. We also see issues with things like wastewater treatment and sewage runoff pollution from urbanization as the keys develop and build up. These are all issues that have plagued the keys for many years and are only just now beginning to be addressed. Obviously there's a lot of work to be done on all of these different fronts. There are a lot of problems facing coral reefs, but we at Coral Restoration Foundation™ see our self as one of the beacons of Hope.
Do these issues concern you moving forward with Coral Reef Restoration?
Alex: We know that the corals grow incredibly well in our nurseries. We have incredibly healthy captive stocks of these coral and if we can mitigate just a few of the negative impacts, we feel like the corals will have a real fighting chance. What we see in our nursery setting is that the corals are still having to deal with climate change, they're still having to deal with ocean acidification, they're still having to deal with pollution, but they're still resilient. They're still growing. They're still reproducing in our nurseries. And we feel like there are only a couple other factors once you put them in a reef setting that start to really hinder their growth.
So if we can mitigate just a few of the negative factors, the corals will be resilient enough to sort of bring themselves back. There are also issues with predation. There are different animals like fire worms and snails that love to eat coral and unfortunately, their predators such as lobsters are being taken out of the ocean at an unsustainable rate. So those are just a couple of the issues. There are also issues with altering the trophic levels of reef ecosystems. Fish play a critical part in the balance of a healthy reef ecosystem. If we start to remove predators and large herbivorous fish from the system, everything cascades negatively and eventually impacts the reef.
We start to see negative impacts when people use reefs too much either for recreational diving, swimming, fishing, or for any number of other uses. There are feef sites in the keys where our out plants are doing really, really well. There are healthy areas with staghorn and elkhorn coral that were not there five to ten years ago. So we see a lot of success in what we're doing. The big question for us now is can we scale up to a level that makes a meaningful ecosystem wide impact.
What can the everyday person do to make a positive impact for the health of our coral reefs?
Alex: So for the everyday person, there are a lot of things that you can do to help coral reefs. One of the big ones is to limit your single-use plastic consumption. There is a lot of plastic in the ocean right now and we're starting to see that it even affects animals as small as corals. Individual coral colonies have been found with traces of plastic chemicals in their tissues and it's leading to disease and death. Another thing that people can do is choose sustainable seafood. There are a lot of different fisheries around the world. Some of them are very environmentally conscious and some of them are not. So doing your research and knowing when you go to a restaurant or go to a supermarket where your seafood is coming from and if it sustainably sourced has a really big impact as well.
For the month of February, MANG is collaborating with Coral Restoration Foundation™by donating a portion of proceeds from our “Coral Restoration Octamang Collection”, to coral reef restoration and protection. Since the 1970s, the Florida Reef Tract has lost almost 97% of its once-dominant staghorn and elkhorn coral. These species are now critically endangered. Help us save coral reefs today and plant a mangrove in your name through our Buy One. Plant One. Initiative.