If you didn’t scuba dive or snorkel through the coral reefs in Florida’s coastal waters over this past Spring Break, you had better get to it, because your time may be limited. Coral reefs are in trouble, and the quality of reef ecosystems is declining on a global scale. USF biology professor and director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, John Ogden described the general condition of reefs as being “in pretty bad shape.”
So what are the major factors contributing to the gradual extinction of coral reefs? Ogden said, “All the reefs are in a state of continued steady decline,” and referred to what he called “The Big Three,” the three major detrimental factors: “fishing, land-based pollution and global climate change.”
“What we have to do is tackle all three of these,” Ogden explained. “The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has made a very good first step at this.”
According to its Web site, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to “the world’s first underwater marine park.” The sanctuary “was established in 1975 to protect 103 square nautical miles of coral reef habitat.”
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is “the best we have in terms of a coral reef management plan,” Dr. Ogden mentioned. The sanctuary has areas that Dr. Ogden described as “no take zones.” These are areas in which no living thing may be harvested, and they “constitute 6 percent of the sanctuary,” according to Ogden. Increasing the size of the “no take zones” would only help the reefs.
Global warming presents a much larger problem for reefs in every ocean.
“It’s becoming fairly obvious that the oceans are warming,” explained Ogden. “This has disastrous effects on coral reefs.”
The issue of global warming is an international situation that is far from being rectified. Ogden’s advice is to “heed the message that the corals are giving.” The time for action is now.
Over-fishing by both commercial and recreational anglers has impacted the reefs drastically.
“Over-fishing has removed many large predatory species,” Dr. Ogden said. The effects of this on the food chain are obvious. Remove the top-level predators and irregular patterns of growth of lower-level species begins. Worldwide, “10 percent of the commercial fishing harvest comes from coral reefs.”
“I think it’s very clear,” Dr. Ogden said, “we need very large areas where fishing is prohibited.
“We have got to look at land-based pollution, Some of this pollution comes from way up in the rivers.”
Ogden also mentioned coastal properties with sanitary sewage systems that are not environmentally friendly as an issue in regards to land-based pollution.
“The pollution levels, too affect corals.” Dr. Ogden explained.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, “reef-related activities employ approximately 81,300 people in four counties.” Anglers, divers and other reef-users spent 4.3 billion dollars in one year.” Coral reefs in Florida are an economic gold mine in a sense. and should be protected.
Steps could be taken to assure the safety and conservation of the world’s coral reefs. Fixing one of the major problems degrading coral reefs is not enough.
.”None of the efforts will benefit the reefs, unless we tackle all the problems,” Ogden said.