Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye writes,

Have you seen SpongeBob SquarePants? Do you know that, though an animation, it features one of the planet’s natural wonders, coral reefs‽

Just as many are oblivious that today, June 1, is recognised globally as Reef Awareness Day, people barely know what a coral reef is or its importance to lifeforms. It is funny that spectacles like coral reefs are very much unknown yet threatened by the actions of many as they do the balance of the planet’s ecosystem.

A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem comprising clusters of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Also known as rainforests of the sea, shallow coral reefs form some of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems. Despite occupying less than a thousandth of the earth’s ocean area, reefs serve as habitats for over a quarter of known aquatic species. These species include cnidarians, crustaceans, echinoderms, fishes, molluscs, seabirds, sea snakes, sea squirts, sea turtles, sponges, tunicates, worms, et cetera.

A reef reflects the overall state of the ocean it habituates. Many aquatic organisms depend on the healthy reefs during the spawning season as it offers ample protection and a food chain that serves even humans. From algae and plankton to the most significant marine creatures that live therein, reefs are essential life-sustaining systems that contribute to balance in both lives in terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

Coral reefs never exist in dirty or muddy waters as the corals consume sea particles, including plastic, ridding seawater of pollutants and making it crystal clear. Reefs are active filtering systems for oceans, and they contribute massively to the life of fishes and the consequent growth of the fishing industry. Similarly, coral reefs boast of high medicinal value, as they preserve stocks of active ingredients in many human medications.

More so, coral reefs absorb wave energy, protecting coastlines, beaches, shorelines and small islands from erosion. They can reduce wave energy to a large extent and are nearly as functional as breakwaters, artificial structures designed for coastal defence. Thus, the existence of coral reefs helps prevent the loss of lives and properties, saving people in tropical areas the costs of flood control, breakwaters and eventual repairs.

Researchers suggest that the first coral reefs appeared about 400 million years ago. Ever since then, history has recorded several reefs die-off. Natural causes like algal blooms, bioerosion by grazing fish, coral blanching, disease, geologic hazards, invasive species, predation and rising ocean temperatures also account for the disappearance of coral reefs. However, human activities are majorly the cause of the destruction of these aquatic beaus.

Human activities like blast fishing, bottom trawling, coral mining, digging of canals into islands and bays, harmful land use that causes marine pollution, indiscriminate mineral mining, tourists’ use of nano-zinc oxide sunscreens, unchecked tourism and similar human endeavours pose existential threats to reefs. Thus, human actions jeopardise the ecosystem services coral reefs provide to almost half a billion people globally.

As we celebrate World Reef Awareness Day today, make conscious efforts to contribute to the health of reefs around the world. Whether you live around a reef or not, refrain from habits that endanger aquatic life and the planet in its entirety. Contribute your quota to the actualisation of SDG 14 by spreading the gospel of frequenting practices that preserve marine life.

In conclusion, create awareness for coral reefs and save them however you can. Volunteer for beach clean-ups whenever you can and if you must ever use sunscreen, use one that is non-nano-zinc oxide.

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