• Carol Jin

We Need A Reef-ival: The Environmental Importance Of Coral Reefs

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A common tourist experience in island vacation spots like the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, or Bora Bora is scuba diving. Many vacationers delight in this opportunity to swim alongside native fish and marvel at the vibrant mosaic of colors hidden beneath the ocean’s surface. Unfortunately, scientists predict that coral reefs, the marine habitats that we should thank for adding pops of color to underwater views, will decline 70-90% over the next 20 years [1]! What is to blame for this disaster and what value do coral reefs provide other than just coloring our marine oceanscapes?

Why Coral Reefs Are Crucial To The Environment

  • They Shelter Shorelines: Healthy reefs can literally “take the hit” of ocean waves, absorbing wave energy by 97% on average [2]. As such effective storm calmers, reefs save the U.S. $800 million in private properties’ flood repair costs annually and also save America about $1 billion per year in livelihood costs [3]!


  • Natural Water Filtration: Polyps, the tiny animals that make up coral structures, are filter feeders, meaning that they eat floating particles. In doing so, they naturally clean up our ocean!

  • Coral Reefs are Biodiversity Hotspots: Coastal wildlife is extremely dependent on coral reefs—all sorts of fish, lobsters, octopuses (it actually isn’t spelled “octopi”!), sea turtles, dolphins—these are just a few examples of marine animals that rely on reefs’ protection and food/habitat provisions [4].

Threats to Coral Reefs [5]

  • Coral Bleaching: When seawater temperatures rise, the algae that live on and provide food for corals die off, which stresses corals potentially to the point of death. This event is called coral bleaching because when the algae strips off of affected reefs, they leave behind the reefs’ underlying white, calcium carbonate “skeletons”.

Brett Monroe Garner / Greenpeace via Reuters file

  • Physical Damage: Destructive fishing practices or underwater coastal development can physically break away parts of coral reefs.

  • Trash Invasions: When garbage such as microplastics, larger plastics, and discarded fishing gear reach the shallow ocean floor, they can snag/hook onto coral reefs and block their direct access to sunlight. This prevents the algae that inhabit the coral from photosynthesizing, which then restricts the reef’s livelihood. Not to mention the fact that plastic particles can choke the marine organisms that live in/near these reefs.

How We Can Reef-ive Coral [6]

  • Snorkel Responsibly: If you ever get the chance to scuba dive or snorkel through the oceans of a beautiful island, please avoid touching the reefs to preserve the wildlife it supports.

  • Dispose of Trash Properly: We can individually minimize the amount of plastic that we let either blow away or get washed into drains that lead to the ocean. Be especially careful to throw away or recycle all trash properly when you visit beaches!

Thank you for reading! With our help, the world can make a U-Turn for the better.

Note: Bracketed numbers next to certain texts (e.g. [1], [2], etc.) indicate that the aforementioned information in the article is derived from the corresponding source in the References below.


[1] Warming, acidic oceans may nearly eliminate coral reef habitats by 2100. (2020, February 18).

[2] Carey, B. (2014, May 13). Coral reefs provide protection from storms and rising sea levels, Stanford research finds. Stanford University.

[3] Beck, M. (2020, June 29). Coral reefs provide flood protection worth $1.8 billion every year – it's time to protect them. The Conversation.

[4] The Importance of Coral Reefs. Reef Relief. (2011, January 31).

[5] Environmental Protection Agency. (2018, May 4). Threats to Coral Reefs. EPA.

[6] Environmental Protection Agency. (2018, September 26). What You Can Do to Help Protect Coral Reefs. EPA.


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