Coral reefs don’t develop in a day, a month, or even a year. They are rather slow-growing creatures. Coral reefs grow at a rate of approximately 15 cm per year. The colossal Great Barrier Reef has been building for 20,000 years!
The disappearance of coral reefs from our planet could lead to a domino effect of mass destruction. Many marine species will vanish after their only source of food disappears forever. Parrotfish, a bright fish with a large beak, spend their entire day chewing coral and lazing around them. It might have to search for a new replacement, along with thousands of other species.
Several other species, like pygmy seahorses, will face a greater threat of large carnivores, as there will be hardly anywhere to hide from predators.
The danger looms large for humans too. There might be an acute food crisis in coastal regions, as a number of fish begin to die off. The health industry will also face extreme stress, as a major source of life-saving drugs will be lost.
Climate change and bleached coral will make coral-based tourism unappealing or non-existent, which will lead to job losses. Developing countries and small island countries like Tuvalu will be most affected by such drastic shifts.
Coral reefs provide protection against flooding and the erosion of coastlines. With them gone, there will be rapid erosion of coastlines and many small island countries might even vanish from the world map. There may be many more serious repercussions that we are unable to perceive at this moment.
The most surprising part is that this is not a hypothetical scenario or just a figment of our imagination. The threat is real. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a meager 1.5°C rise in global temperature can lead to the extinction of 70-90% of coral reefs around the globe. This number could go as high as 99% if global temperature rises by 2°C.
With a good portion of global reefs already lost, it’s now about saving what remains.A number of initiatives, like the International Coral Reef Initiative, have been taken up by world bodies and governments across the globe for the better protection of coral reefs. However, every such effort will be in vain until each and every human being is ready to collaborate and address this crisis head-on.
This is not just about coral reefs. Howsoever insignificant a species might appear, even if one goes extinct, it can lead to serious disruptions in the food chain across the globe. With that in mind, all of us should take responsibility not only for providing a better future for ourselves, but also for every other creature that calls this planet home.