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All About Reefs

              Omaha's Leader
In Diver's
Coral Reef Systems
Existing for over 200 million years coral reefs, named "the rainforests of the sea", are vital to maintaining the biological diversity of our world's oceans. Like colorful undersea gardens, reefs offer a delicate balance of beauty, serenity and life. But if something isn't done to halt the destruction of these international treasures we may lose them forever. Coral reefs are rapidly being destroyed worldwide. How fast are they disappearing? Scientists estimate that 25% of the world's coral reefs are already dead. If current trends continue, we may face the loss of this precious resource entirely within the next 30-50 years! While environmental stress is a factor, humans cause the most significant problems affecting coral reefs. Due to their lack of sensitivity to even the slightest change in local condition, coral reefs are often the first ecosystems affected by humankind's alteration of the environment.
* Sedimentation from coastal development and unwise land-use policies cause soil erosion inducing coral stress and blocking light necessary for coral growth. * Run-off from cropland and animal feed lots introduce excessive amounts of fertilizers and untreated sewage to reef environments. These nutrients slow growth rates, reduce light and water flow to coral surfaces and induce coral bleaching (a stress response causing corals to turn white and eventually die).
* Global warming trends due to an increase in greenhouse gases and ozone depletion warm ocean temperatures, stressing coral reef ecosystems, often causing corals to bleach and die.
* Destructive fishing practices such as the use of reef killing poisons like cyanide, explosives and fishing devices reduce coral reef ecosystems to lifeless rubble every day. * Pollution from oil, petroleum products, untreated sewage and marine debris often poison and injure coral reef life.
* Lost or discarded fishing nets (ghost nets) entangle thousands of fish and mammals and suffocate reefs.
* Poorly conceived coastal development destroys vital ecosystems such as mangrove forests and sea grass beds which serve as nursery grounds for many reef inhabitants. There is a ton of information out there on Reefs, this is just a tip.
Coral Reef Facts:
* Support 4,000 species of fish, 700 species of coral and thousands of plants and animals.
* Are composed of thousands of tiny animals called coral polyps.
* Are responsible for building the largest biological structure on earth - the Great Barrier Reef.
* Consist of two different types of corals: hard corals like brain, star, elkhorn and pillar and soft corals including sea fans, sea whips and sea rods.
On the Bright Side:
Although the state of the world's coral reefs are alarming, the good news is steps are being taken to improve the situation. For example, the plight facing coral reefs has come into focus within the media, government and local communities worldwide. International magazines and television broadcasts bring the awareness message to a large audience. Efforts such as Cites (the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species) plan prevention of coral exploitation internationally. Coral reef scientists convene on a worldwide scale to assess ecosystems and collaborate on conservation efforts. Information and communication made available by the World Wide Web enables sharing of environmental databases and status reports across nations. These resources offer great hope for coral reefs. However, there is still much to be done.
How can you help? 10 Things You Can Do
1. Avoid purchasing souvenirs made from coral or any threatened or endangered marine species.
2. Support the establishment of coral reef protected areas and encourage better protection and management for those that exist.
3. While traveling, choose resorts and tour operations that properly treat all sewage and waste water.
4. While operating a boat, navigate carefully to avoid contact with coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems such as seagrass beds and maintain engine equipment to prevent oil and gas spills.
5. As a diver or snorkeler, choose tour operators that use mooring buoys or drift diving techniques whenever possible, rather than anchors that can cause reef damage.
6. Make wise choices in selecting seafood by avoiding menu items that are caught or farmed using destructive or unsustainable practices including reef killing poisons, explosives and illegal equipment.
7. Avoid purchasing tropical wood furniture or products obtained from clear cut tropical forests causing siltation damage to coral reefs.
8. As a diver, practice buoyancy control skills in a pool or sandy area before diving near coral reefs. Make sure your gauges and equipment are secure to avoid accidental contact with the reef and never, never touch, stand on or collect coral.
9. Report all damage of coral reefs to dive operators, scientific or conservation groups that monitor coral reef health.
10. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles!
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