Coral reefs support about a quarter of all life in the ocean.
Diving through one, you can see oodles of different, brightly colored inhabitants, from delicate butterflyfish and snapping shrimp to massive sharks and octopi. Reefs are some of our best fishing grounds, tourist attractions, and natural defenses against storm surges.
With all that coral reefs give, it seems like a tragedy to see what we're giving back to them.
We overfish our reefs, break them with anchors and trawlers — even use cyanide and dynamite on them. What's worse, climate change and the warmer weather it brings can cause massive bleaching episodes, which can be fatal to the coral.
Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via Acropora/Wikimedia Commons.
Even if we can't completely protect wild reefs, we can help replant them.
Like replanting saplings after a forest fire, some researchers and conservation groups have been experimenting with replanting reefs.
The go-to method is to take tiny samples from a wild coral then raise and propagate the "saplings" before planting them again in the wild.
On July 25, 2017, University of Miami biologist Stephanie Schopmeyer showed that this method has some real promise. In a new paper, she and her team documented how they used this replanting idea to help restore endangered elkhorn coral colonies along the coasts of Florida and Puerto Rico. This not only demonstrates the method's success, but also provides a guide and benchmark for other groups going forward.
It's an awesome scientific step in helping us give back and protect ocean life. But there's plenty that non-scientists can do to make a difference.
Cities and states have used shipwrecks, statues, even military tanks to help build artificial reefs. Scuba divers can help by signing up to help replant the corals or pick up floating trash.
Photo via iStock.
On land, you can sign up for beach cleanups, donate to conservation initiatives, or just helping slow the damage by eating sustainable seafood, reducing our trash, and fighting climate change.
Coral reefs are one of the wonders of the natural world. They deserve a little help.