What is the future?

Coral reefs are changing dramatically due to anthropogenic impacts and as the human population is increasing, severe impacts on the reef system are inevitable. Reefs are more likely to become extinct than the species that are found within the reef ecosystem, according to fossil record assumptions (Knowlton, 2001).

Reefs are able to recover from disturbances within 30 years if the conditions they are in are correct. However, in severely damaged reefs, the adult corals rarely survive and those that do are very slow growing, resulting in a recovery time of up to 50 years. Recovery can be further slowed if anthropogenic activities such as the fish populations in the reef are reduced and also if sedimentation processes are high. Therefore, it’s important for us to look at improving how we manage the human impacts on reefs in order to reduce stress (Wilkinson, 1999).

Figure 15. Showing the declining coral abundance with time. Courtesy of Shepperd et al. (2013).

Figure 15. Showing the declining coral abundance with time. Courtesy of Shepperd et al. (2013).

Due to anthropogenic impacts, the extent and biodiversity of reefs are being affected and this is causing severe impacts on the cultures and economies that are dependent on the resources of the reef (Wilkinson, 1999). The increasing human population will result in increased anthropogenic damages and degradation will be greater compared to any success of management strategies, this can be seen in figure 15. The major concern of coral reef degradation is with the dependence that humans now have on the reefs and their resources. The declining coral reefs will result in humans being unable to exploit all their uses and this will significantly affect humans as they heavily rely on reefs as a major source of income (Wilkinson, 1996). Furthermore, damaged corals will mean a reduced ability to protect the coast and this threatens the stability of beaches. This will impact both humans that live near the coast and also terrestrial species such as turtles and sea birds that are dependent on the beach for reproduction (Hoegh-Goldberg et al., 2007). However, despite there being few positive signs that reefs will recover in the near future, it is widely thought that reefs will eventually recover from the current pressures and will evolve and continue to do so with the changing environment (Wilkinson, 1999).

Management:

Restoration practices have been carried out on coral reefs to promote growth and diversity. Coral restoration is the growth of coral species from a fragment of the reef and may reduce the likelihood of a regime shift to algal dominated reefs and help the reefs to recover to its normal state (Hoegh-Goldberg et al., 2007).

Figure, 15. Image of the restoration of coral reef. Image courtesy of Profmauri.

Figure, 16. Image of the restoration of coral reef. Image courtesy of Profmauri.

The most significant method to help coral reefs is to improve the management of fisheries on the reef. This should in turn increase the reefs resilience to disturbance and disease. There is significant room for improvement on the management of herbivorous fisheries as the current management schemes in many countries is extremely poor. By managing the densities of the fish species in the reef ecosystem, the resilience of the reef can increase and restoration to its normal state is possible (Hoegh-Goldberg et al., 2007).

It is hard to predict the future of reefs as we have quite limited knowledge on the factors affecting them, however, it is believed that they may be closer to extinction than thought (Knowlton, 2001).

Without humans, 1. making a considerable effort to sustainably use the reefs resources without over exploitation, 2. reducing the impacts they are having and 3. helping restore reef structures, reefs will continue to decline. I think that it is in our interest to start making more of an effort to help reduce the impacts and restore our reefs globally, not only so that humans can continue to use the reefs but also because we have an ethical role in making sure such a beautiful and important habitat doesn’t disappear before our eyes.

Go to http://coralreef.noaa.gov/ to find out more about coral reef conservation.

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