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In the current era, there has been a flurry of studies about the impact human activities have on a range of phenomena that have existed for millions of years. Coral reefs are among the most affected ecosystems all over the world. The influence on them has mainly been harmful, with some sections in danger of being wiped out in a few years due to irresponsible human actions. The factors that experts have blamed for the decimation of corals are both direct, such as blast fishing, and indirect, such as global warming and tourism. An evaluation of the effects of human activities on coral reefs reveals if a severe negative impact on them is not addresses, it will lead to their disappearance of the ecosystem.
Human Activities that Affect Coral Reefs
Prior to probing into how people’s actions have influenced the coral reefs, it is imperative to highlight the innumerable human activities that have been responsible for their devastation and in some cases, decimation. Some of the actions are patently harmful, and most people would recognize them as dangerous, while there are those acts that turn out to cause incidental damage rather than intentional (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). The first one is coral mining that involves the removal of coral reefs for use for various reasons. The second cause of harm is pollution. While inorganic pollution affects the coral reefs much more than the organic one, both have an immense impact on the ecosystem under consideration (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). The third dangerous action is overfishing which also includes dangerous fishing methods such as cyanide fishing and blast fishing that have an immense effect on coral reefs and have resulted in their demise in some places of the globe, in particular, in the areas like Taiwan (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). It is also notable that access to islands that are surrounded by coral reefs has also been shown to affect them significantly. Corals are also influenced indirectly by human activities that lead to global warming as these have led to rising temperatures of oceans that means higher amount of more carbon dioxide leading to the death of some of the coral reefs (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). Finally, tourism, and various recreational and non-recreational activities have also had a large impact on coral reefs.
One of the most cataclysmic actions that human beings have been able to do leading to the destruction of coral reefs is coral mining. The process involves the removal of the coral for construction and limestone (Caras & Pasternak, 2009). They can also be used as road fill and bricks. Moreover, other than in the construction industry, some people extract them for use or sale as jewelry and souvenirs (Caras & Pasternak, 2009). Additionally, there are those who mine live corals for use in marine aquariums. Lastly, some individuals remove them as they serve as a source of mineral supplements, notably calcium, while researchers have also been employing them for bone graph clinical trials.
The mining causes a significant level of damage of the coral reefs having both a short-term and long-term effect. Depending on the method that the miners use, the physical damage can vary. For example, if they turn to blast mining, they can remove the reef, leading to a change in the composition of the sentiment (Caras & Pasternak, 2009). This not only obliterates the coral but also has a detrimental effect on the coastline. Moreover, mining, especially blast mining, will also cause the death of a coral in both the short and long-term period of time (Caras & Pasternak, 2009). As coral takes hundreds of thousands of years to grow, and needs very particular conditions which seem impossible to attain due to the changing climate and pollution, the coral reefs might never recover.
Pollution has had a great impact on the coral reefs especially in the areas that are not well flushed, and receive a lot of effluents. In this case, the harmful pollutants can be anything from the sewage to chemical substances (Manzello, 2010). The effect of these is that they introduce new conditions in which some of the species that have existed in the particular place for hundreds of thousands of years die (Manzello, 2010). For instance, in the oceans that receive a lot of effluents, the introduction of nutrients and toxic substances present in chemical and sewage waters provokes the development of conditions that are conducive for the appearance of algae harmful to the corals (Manzello, 2010). The algae outcompete the corals, and eventually, this will lead to the destruction of the ecosystem under consideration (Manzello, 2010). In addition, the toxic substances in the chemicals and sewage might lead to metabolic changes in the organisms that form the coral. The ensuing impact of the mentioned transformation is that there is a decrease in the rates of growth and reproduction of the live corals (Manzello, 2010). Ultimately, considering that a coral takes a long time to grow, such a situation will lead to its eventual dying out. One should also state that the fact that some of the chemicals dissolve the coral, and make it much easier to wash away, exacerbates the issue.
According to numerous studies, overfishing is another most destructive form of local threat to coral reefs (Liu, Meng, Liu, Wang, & Leu, 2012). It has been estimated that more than fifty percent of all world's reefs are at risk from overfishing, destructive fishing and other forms of unsustainable fishing. In most cases, this is a local problem, and one can explain this by the fact that reef fishery is an important source of food and income in some areas (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). Obviously, irresponsible fishing affects the ecosystem. For instance, blast fishing kills corals in large areas by shattering their colonies and killing their tissue (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). The activity leads to the reduction of the corals to rubbles which makes their recovery impossible and causes the death of large sections of the reef (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). Moreover, the use of cyanide so as to stun fish is not only a wasteful way of fishing but also the one that brings about the destruction and killing off corals (Liu, P., Meng, Liu, L., Wang, & Leu, 2012). Additionally, gill nets and beach seines also destroy reef ecosystems. As such, unsustainable and destructive fishing has a detrimental and possibly mortal effect on corals in most parts of the world.
Construction on Coral Reef Islands for Military and Other Purposes
In some areas of seas, coral reef islands are the only land for hundreds of square kilometers. This has led to the fight for such islands for various purposes such as landing of fishing expeditions and even the military ones. For instance, CNN has documented that the Chinese army has been building military structures on the coral islands in the South China Sea (Anser, 2017). Moreover, the use of submarines in this area, especially close to the Spratly Islands, has led to the destruction of corals, which number more than six hundred species in this territory. Furthermore, one should not forget about the damage caused by the reclaiming of land in the area chiefly by the Chinese government with the aim of supporting military bases whose number has reached more than fifteen in the coral-rich Spratly Islands (Asner, 2017). The implications of this activity cannot be understated. Corals, as this paper has highlighted several times, take hundreds of thousands of years to form (Asner, 2017). This means that the construction of military bases on them will decimate them, and as such, kill not only the living corals but also destroy the reef which might never replace itself.
Other than the direct impact on corals that activities like blast fishing have, global warming has an indirect influence on the ecosystem under analysis. According to Glyn (2012), corals only grow in very specific conditions in the ocean, and global warming is changing those for worse. For instance, oceans and seas absorb a lot of the carbon dioxide that makes the growing of the corals impossible. This happens owing to the fact that of carbon dioxide causes the acidification of the water that has a direct impact on the ability of the corals to absorb the calcium carbonate that they need for the maintenance of their skeletons (Carreiro-Silva & McClanahan, 2012). Consequently, they become vulnerable to dissolution in the oceans. Moreover, high sea temperatures induced by the global warming have already led to higher levels of corals being bleached. Bleaching of the corals is a process by which they respond to the stress that warmer temperatures cause by expelling the colorful algae that live with them (Glynn, 2012). As a result, corals are not only less beautiful, but they are also weaker and less able to combat the disease. While bleaching would occur in the summer in some corals only, with the increasing local temperatures, the bleaching is not only permanent now, but likewise outsized owing to growing amount of carbon that is harmful to corals (Glynn, 2012). This changes the ecology of the areas around the coral reefs and, as a consequence, a multitude of organisms that use them as their habitat (Glynn, 2012). Thus, it is apparent that human activities that lead to global warming, such as the burning of fossil fuels, have a negative impact on the corals leading to their bleaching, and dissolution and resulting in their eventual decimation.
Tourism and Recreational Activities
One of the most cited reasons for the preservation of the coral reefs is that they are not only beautiful but that they also support tourism. However, it seems to escape most of those who make such statements and justifications that tourism and other recreational activities are themselves a threat to the survival of the coral reefs (Diedrich, 2007). The tourists, especially when doing recreational activities such as diving, whether accidentally or not touch, pollute or even break off parts of the reef during the escapades to view the corals (Diedrich, 2007). The corals might try to fight off the pollution that tourists bring to their ecosystem, but this leads to them bleaching, that is losing their color and becoming white.
Moreover, even with the conceptualization of the sustainable tourism that has among other things aimed to transform the face of tourism to be friendlier to corals, the existing situation has not changed much. For instance, it has not led to the stopping of construction of coastal properties that tourists use (Diedrich, 2007). The mentioned activity leads to the drenching of the coastline that, in its turn, has had a large impact on the reefs since it is the cause of sedimentation. Furthermore, the use of the cruise ships by tourists has not helped either. According to Gokkon (2017), a British-owned cruise-ship has destroyed a part of the reefs at Raja Ampat which was home to one of the world’s largest diversity of species. Gokkon (2017) explains that the cruise ship, carrying more than one hundred tourists, crashed into the coral reefs and severely damaged them after taking the tourists to the nearby island to bird-watch.
Furthermore, one also has to note that, by itself, tourism supports some of the activities that lead to the acidification of the ocean and global warming. Such actions include the building of tourist resorts on the coastlines whose waste is deposited into the waters leading to the sedimentation and change of the ecology (Sarmento & Santos, 2011). Some of the resorts are also a cause of large carbon imprint as they require heating, which is often done using gasoline that is a reason of high carbon discharges. Besides, it is necessary to state that in some instances, tourists purchase some souvenirs from places they visit some of which are made of mined corals (Sarmento & Santos, 2011). The fact that the visitors have to travel from one location to another and, thus, use vehicles fueled by fossil fuels further underlines this point (Sarmento & Santos, 2011). From the preceding, it is apparent that tourism, rather than leading to the preservation of the corals, has been a disaster for them. If left unchecked, it might lead to the decimation of the corals in a few decades.
An evaluation of the impact of human activities on coral reefs reveals that people’s actions have had a severe negative influence on the coral reefs which if not dealt with, will lead to their decimation. Coral mining turns out to be the main harmful activity. Additionally, one should mention pollution, both organic and inorganic. The third cause of the issue is overfishing and harmful fishing methods such as blast and cyanide fishing. Moreover, building of structures on coral islands, similar to the Chinese who have done it in the South China Sea, leads to their destruction. Finally, global warming has also negatively affected coral reefs and so has tourism.