Finally.. we have reached the last article of coral reef series. Hopefully, those of you who are taking the time to read these articles are actually learning new information and gaining new insight into the biological processes which help make coral reefs some of the most fascinating places on Earth. So far, I’ve talked about water quality, the importance of light, and factors concerning bioload. The last topic I want to discuss is the state of the world’s reefs. While this topic does not directly deal with aquarium techniques, I think it is important for all prospective reef keepers to have an idea of what’s going on below the ocean’s surface.
There are hundreds of different types of habitats here on Earth. People tend to be most familiar with terrestrial ecosystems, since these areas often benefit from the most popular spokesmen. I am not talking about Jack Hannah or some environmentalist from Greenpeace… I am referring to those cute, furry animals that inspire compassion for nature. Tigers, koala bears, and their assorted cuddly friends contribute a great service to ecologists who fight to save their habitats. Unfortunately, ecosystems like salt marshes, deserts, and the open ocean do not have many spokesmen to speak of (no pun intended). Everyone knows that the world’s rainforests are being slashed and burned at a mind-boggling rate, but did you know that coral reefs are taking just as bad a beating?
Agricultural runoff, blasting, cyanide use, and over-fishing are just a few of the problems which threaten reefs today.
I doubt that the International Coral Reef Conservation Association would attract much public support by putting a longhorn cowfish on its brochure. What a shame! Corals (or their close relatives) have, for the most part, inhabited the earth’s tropical ocean’s for over a billion years. That is a very long time, even geologically speaking. Coral reefs have witnesses the birth and extinction of dinosaurs, and will likely persist to witness the last days of Homo sapiens. One of the reasons they have been so successful is the fact that reefs, as an ecosystem, are remarkably adaptable. Unfortunately, human beings have used this fact as a way to justify their grossly exploitative actions. The progressive, blitzkrieg-style impact on reefs due to anthropogenic influences, combined with natural phenomena like storms, temperature variations, and disease are really taking their toll throughout the world’s tropical oceans.
Quite a few experts in the field agree that the pristine reef environment is a thing of the past. A habitat gone extinct. What can we do to help save the world’s reefs? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Even with increased legislation and awareness of key environmental issues. The state of the oceans hangs perilously from the sloped shoulders of mankind. As the world’s population continues to explode, the oceans will be forced to accept greater and greater stresses. There are many ill-informed conservationists who would have the public believe that the aquarium industry is one of the greatest threats to coral reefs. This saddens me, since I feel that their energy could be better spent trying to tackle more serious issues at hand.
Until recently, caring for live tropical invertebrates was something straight out of a science fiction novel. We simply did not understand the biology or possess the technology to keep such delicate creatures alive in the home. As a result, corals have the reputation as a wasted resource in the aquarium. Conservationists can easily target aquarists since they are not backed by the enormous funds which oil companies, foreign fishing conglomerates, or organizations representing farmer’s agricultural rights use to fight their economic and political battles.
The fact is, the harmful effects of harvesting for the aquarium trade is low on the list of environmental threats.
Unlike other pressures, the industry does increase awareness and promote education which might ultimately lead to increased conservation efforts. I believe that one of the most promising ways to preserve natural coral reefs is through education. As the reef keeping hobby continues to gain popularity the general public will learn what amazing creatures these are and hopefully want to help save them.
The manatees in Florida or the California condor would have gone extinct long ago had their plights not been made so visual to the entire world. Large public aquariums are sprouting up like weeds in many parts of the country. Which goes to show that increased awareness and education is now within our reach. As responsible reef keepers, and in order to help fight to save the world’s reefs. We should avoid purchasing specimens which are obviously unfit for life in an aquarium. There are plenty of species of coral, fish and invertebrate which can live comfortably in a captive tank.
Let’s not add fuel to the fire by attempting to maintain those certain “delicate” species which have little chance to survive.
If we act responsibly, there just might be the slightest glimmer of hope for the future of our Earth’s most prestigious aquatic environment. Take pride in the fact that, as you acquire knowledge and gain the experience necessary to become a successful reef keeper. You are also a full-fledged conservationist, playing an ethical role in the grand scheme of things.
By Jason Kim