Coral reefs are environmentally invaluable: they contain more species per unit of area than any other ecosystem on earth. Stony corals lay the foundation for large reefs: their polyps produce a calcium carbonate exoskeleton that attaches to rocky outcrops around continental shelves, maintaining the shape of our shores. Corals grow into ornate colonies comprised of a hierarchy of organisms that interact through symbiotic relationships. Corals are the nurseries of our oceans: one-quarter of the world’s fish develop and hatch in the safety of reefs. Reefs are home to some of the world’s most colorful, striking, and complex animals on earth, drawing billions of dollars annually through tourism. Coral reefs only make up about 1% of our ocean’s floors, but they are home to a remarkable 25% of all marine life.
The incredible diversity of life in coral reefs relies on a delicate balance of environmental conditions. Human interference has caused massive damage to reefs through pollution, tourism, and destructive fishing practices, but the most pressing issue facing reef communities today is climate change. Corals rely on a symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellate algae in order to survive: these algae live in and on the coral polyps, converting sunshine into nutrients. When water temperatures rise, corals reject their symbionts, leaving dying polyps that appear translucent and white. This process is referred to as coral bleaching and is the most direct cause of reef death. Many reefs boast nearly ten thousand years of growth but can be lost in mere months: a recent study states that since 2016, over 60% of the Great Barrier Reef has been irreversibly bleached, and nearly 90% has been damaged or completely deteriorated.
When corals experience large-scale die-offs, entire marine ecosystems begin to collapse around them. Without nurseries, many of the fish we eat have no place for their young to develop, and their numbers fall dramatically. The diverse communities that live in and around corals disappear and many species that are coral specialists go extinct. Eventually, coral exoskeletons decay and erode, leaving our coastlines more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The need to preserve coral reefs is becoming increasingly clear.
Preservation efforts are taking place across the globe to help offset coral reef degradation. The Nature Conservancy is leading an initiative to triple the coverage of marine habitats by 2020 through cooperation with nearly a dozen governments in the Caribbean. Other organizations have set up offshore coral nurseries, attempting to replenish coral stocks locally. While coral restoration is a slow process, a multifaceted approach can produce wonderful effects: many other movements involved with spreading awareness of responsible boating and fishing practices can also help decrease and offset the human impact on degradation.
The goal behind this project is based on our belief that protecting coral reefs starts with an effort to place these issues at the center of public education. Coral reefs display a beautiful example of the interdependence of life, how species adapt to live for the benefit of one another, and how we as humans must acknowledge our role in this web in order to sustain its longevity.
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Join Hagopian Arts as we continue our initiative to create public facing murals educating on aspects of environmental conservancy! Follow our social media pages below to get updates on our latest murals, information on conservation efforts, and ways to get involved: