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Celebrate World Reef Awareness Day On June 1

Let’s not mince words here: the world’s coral reefs are endangered. Warming oceans has caused these fragile underwater ecosystems to disappear without a trace. Much of the ocean’s marine life relies on reefs for habitats and food. Reefs also help coastal communities from erosion and breaking waves. We have to save coral reefs as much as possible. That’s why the holiday on June 1st reminds us about the importance of reefs: World Reef Awareness Day. 

Western Civilization didn’t know about coral reefs until British explorer James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia in 1770. At the time, Cook didn’t realize this natural structure had been here for millions of years, untouched by humanity. Scientists believe the Great Barrier Reef formed 20 million years ago. Most of the reefs on Earth were formed following the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now, humanity affects it with pollution and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Stretching 1,800 miles across the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef was first studied in 1928-29 to understand the dynamics of coral. By 1980, though, the results of human interference were on display. The first mass coral bleaching event occurred. Scientists blamed global warming for it. Since 1998, most mass bleaching events have directly resulted from farming runoff. Pesticides are the biggest culprit in harming the reef. In 2016 the El Ninõ weather pattern destroyed over a third of the Great Barrier Reef. 

Photo Courtesy Francesco Ungaro

To educate the general public about ocean acidification, climate change, and why coral is necessary for human livelihoods, World Reef Awareness Day was created. 

There are several ways to slow the rate of coral bleaching. The best action is to clean up beaches of any pollutants. Get your friends and family together, or contact a professional waste management firm to haul the trash away. It’ll create better conditions for animals who use coastal reefs as habitats. Rather than use name-brand sunscreen, make your own. Chemicals in most sunscreens wash off in the ocean, causing harm to reefs. Mix coconut oil, olive oil, and beeswax with a zinc oxide formula, and you’ll have an all-natural sunscreen. There are other instructions you can find online.

Video Courtesy National Geographic 

Why do we need reefs? Besides providing great content for a David Attenborough nature feature, reefs are breeding grounds for several marine species. Humpback whales, green sea turtles, Dugongs (sea cows), and plenty of fish use the ecosystem.

Many animals feed off the reef, too, such as sharks and other fish of prey. Even saltwater crocodiles in the salt marshes near the coast live near the Reef. Birds populate the areas around the Reef for their food sources. 

Photo Courtesy Ray Aucott

Sure, animals may rely on coral more than us, but it’s foolish to think coral doesn’t impact our lives. If you live in Queensland, Australia, California, or South Florida, you NEED reefs. Coastal reefs control the strength of breaking waves, which slows the rate of land erosion. The reefs also filter the ocean naturally, making the water around them crystal-clear. 

To mitigate further damage to reefs, coastal communities should plant ocean-friendly gardens. These plants require less water to thrive. They reduce coastal flooding and reduce urban runoff. Nonprofit Surfrider has an Ocean Friendly Gardens guide available if you’re looking to start an ocean-friendly garden.

NOAA estimates over 75% of the world’s reefs are already threatened. In the next ten years, 90% will be threatened by humans.

Pollution, ocean acidification, agricultural runoff, oil spills, and boat anchors are significant threats. By limiting the amount of damage done to each reef, we can help them to rejuvenate.

Also, technological solutions form artificial reefs on sunken boats and other structures. Anything we can do to preserve the world’s coral is critical.

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