The latest studies indicate that as much as 27% of monitored reef formations have been lost globally. In the Indo-Pacific ocean, home to Komodo National Park, the reef is disappearing at twice the rate that rainforests are. Bearing in mind that we all know how fast the rainforest is disappearing, this is not acceptable.
In 1980, Komodo became a national park. The goal was to maintain the rich biodiversity that lay beneath the ocean’s surface. Often referred to as ‘the Amazon of the seas’ the Komodo islands are part of the Coral Triangle. The Coral Triangle is the global centre for marine biodiversity.
Unfortunately, as conditions on Earth become more threatening for corals, we are at risk of losing our reefs. As well as the place that made us fall in love with SCUBA, Komodo.
What threats are coral reefs facing?
The most serious stressor for coral is rising sea temperatures due to climate change. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the microalgae, zooxanthellae. They help each other out. If sea temperatures rise one degree above average, this relationship breaks down.
The zooxanthellae provide the coral with 90% of their energy through photosynthesis, so without them the coral are toast. The coral is no longer able to produce the bright and beautiful colours we know and love. They become ‘bleached’ white. If temperatures remain too high for too long the coral is unable to recover and dies.
In Komodo National Park, the water temperature ranges from 27-29 degrees Celsius. We intend to keep it this way.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are rising. This is due to excessive burning of fossil fuels and land clearance for agriculture. All caused by us humans.
Seawater absorbs some of the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere resulting in the acidification of the ocean. The acidic conditions dissolve coral skeletons, which make up the reefs structure, and make it difficult for corals to grow. If this continues it will be hard for corals to grow at all.
Unsustainable Fishing Practices
The downfall of Komodo National Park is the unsustainable fishing practices that occur. Since the declaration of Komodo as a national park, blast and cyanide fishing have reduced but it still occurs in some areas. Blast fishing directly destroys whole areas of coral. Both methods of fishing are detrimental to coral health.
The decrease in marine patrols has led to an increase in illegal fishing. Areas are being overfished and threatening the parks biodiversity.
As the population surrounding Komodo National Park grows, the park becomes more threatened. Sewage and plastic pollution are contaminating the ocean and leading to marine life mortalities.
Why is conserving coral reefs beneficial for us?
Coral reef ecosystems provide the perfect environment for marine species to flourish. Their ability to provide homes and nursery grounds to various species has resulted in coral reefs having a rich biodiversity. This rich biodiversity is ecologically beneficial. As well as these ecological benefits, they also have many benefits for us humans. Which is why we should all take their health more seriously.
Coral reef structures buffer shorelines against waves, storms, and floods. They help to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion.
Development of Medicine
Discovery of a new species occurs every day. As coral reef ecosystems are so diverse, it’s likely that there are many species left to discover. Like the rainforest, any of these undiscovered species may have medical benefits. There have been various species found that are important sources for new medicines. Compounds from marine species are currently under development to treat cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases.
Coral reefs provide shelter for many fish to spawn. When fish become juveniles, they spend time there before making their way to the open sea. Due to this, the reef has a huge economic importance for both the fishing and tourism industry. Remember, without the coral reef, there’d be nothing for us to show you guys and nothing for you to enjoy.
Coral reefs play a critical role in the carbon cycle of our planet. They use calcium ions and dissolved carbon dioxide from the water and turn it into calcium carbonate. This helps in the formation of their hard skeleton. They act as a sink for the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping us to tackle the effects of climate change.
Coral reefs are probably one of the best friends us humans could ask for.
Introducing you to Komodo National Park’s corals
If you aren’t already big on species identification, we thought we’d introduce you to some of the most common corals you can find here in Komodo National Park. It’s good to let the people know what they’ll be missing out on if we don’t conserve this beautiful ecosystem.
These are the reef-building corals. They produce a rock-like skeleton made of calcium carbonate. Hard corals live in shallow waters to keep their symbiote happy through photosynthesis.
These are corals that have formed into broad horizontal surfaces. They are commonly known as table corals. This pattern of growth increases the exposed surface area of the coral to the water column. The larger surface area provides polyps with greater access to light, optimising their growth.
The staghorn coral is a branching, stony coral with cylindrical branches. Staghorn coral ranges from a few centimetres to over two metres in length and height. It occurs in reefs from 0 to 30 m depth. It can form dense groups called “thickets” in very shallow water. These provide important habitat for other reef animals, especially fish.
Elkhorn coral also form dense thickets and play a key role in providing habitats for reef animals. They are named for their similarity to the horns of an elk.
Foliose corals are often described as leafy or lettuce-like. Their appearance is often likened to the open petals of a flower. Nobody wants to miss out on that beauty.
These corals have small, un-splitting branches which resemble fingers (digits). Often, they provide important nursery areas for juvenile fish.
Named for its appearance, the grooved brain coral looks amazingly like a human brain. It has particularly deep grooves that resemble the brain’s folds.
Soft corals look like colourful plants or graceful trees. They aren’t reef-building as they do not produce a calcified skeleton like hard corals. But they do produce smaller amounts of calcium carbonate to help them keep their shape.
These corals have the unique ability to ‘pulse’. They use their ‘hands’ to push water away from the colony in a constant grabbing motion. It’s really something to observe underwater.
Gorgonians form large, branching structures that often resemble trees. Often called sea whips and sea fans, their structure consists of colonies of thousands of tiny polyps
These are corals that have the appearance of small trees, creating forests in the ocean.
Originating in the Indo-Pacific ocean these coral have a bubble like appearance. Turns out you’ll see more bubbles underwater than just those from your regulator.
To see all of these species with your own eyes, join one of our day trips.We’d be more than happy to introduce you to our underwater world.
Coral Reef Conservation is Vital
If the sheer diversity and beauty of corals isn’t enough to make you fall in love and pledge your whole life to saving coral, then what will? Only kidding. But seriously, any small changes you can make to be more environmentally conscious and sustainable will help the cause.
At Scuba Republic we are members of the Dive Operators Community Komodo (DOCK). DOCK members follow regulations to help protect biodiversity and provide safe diving. In Komodo, DOCK have reduced direct impacts on our coral reef ecosystem by introducing new mooring buoys. You can read more about DOCK in our last blog post.
It’s important for us all to remember that coral reefs are a completely unique ecosystem. Coral reefs give so much to us as humans and we need to try and do the same for them. If we don’t, its predicted that 90% of corals will be dead by 2050. We don’t want this to happen, so let’s change our ways and be aware of how are actions are affecting our world.
The underwater world provides us with a break from the stresses of everyday life. Coral reefs are a huge part of this. They are the reason we fell in love with SCUBA. They are the reason we stay in love with SCUBA. We must all make changes to protect the things we love. Let’s make a pledge to start right now.
If you’re completely clueless on what you can do to help, shoot us a message. Working together is the only way to make real change.