Why are coral reefs in peril and what is being done to protect them?

Download
Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

Coral reefs can be damaged by natural processes, such as storms, but they are increasingly at risk from human activities. Oil spills and pollutants...

Details

Episode Number: 135

Date Taken:

Location Taken: US

Transcript

[music fades in]

Welcome to CoreFacts, where we're always short on time and big on science. I'm Jessica Robertson. Today's question is...

Why are coral reefs in peril and what is being done to protect them?

Coral reefs can be damaged by natural processes, such as storms, but they are increasingly at risk from human activities. Oil spills and pollutants can threaten entire reefs. Excessive nutrients from land sources, such as sewage and agricultural fertilizers, promote the growth of algae that can smother corals. Other organisms harmful to corals, such as crown-of-thorns starfish, multiply when the species that prey on them are removed.

Coral productivity is also decreased when land developments for agriculture, industry, and housing increase sediment transported from land into coastal waters as runoff. This clouds the waters and blocks light necessary for photosynthesis by algae living in corals. Corals face serious risks from various diseases. When corals are stressed, they often expel the algal symbionts that are critical to their health in a process commonly known as coral bleaching. One known cause of coral bleaching is increases in ocean temperatures, possibly due to global warming.

So, what's being done to protect coral reefs? Scientists worldwide are working to understand the impacts of natural processes and human activities on the health and sustainability of coral reefs. In the United States, this effort is being coordinated by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. As part of the task force, the USGS is contributing to the effort to understand the biological and geological controls that affect our Nation's coral reefs. USGS coral reef research focuses on detailed mapping of reefs, the development of monitoring techniques, studying reefs' geologic growth and development, and how they are affected by water quality, fishing, and sedimentary and hydrologic processes. These efforts will help provide information that is essential if coral reefs are to be saved.

And now you know. Join us again every week for a new CoreFact. For other CoreFacts or for CoreCast, our in depth science podcast, go to www.usgs.gov/podcasts. If you'd like to have questions featured on our show, give us an email at corefacts@usgs.gov or a phone call at 703-648-5600. Remember, long distance fees do apply.

The USGS CoreFacts is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

[music fades out]