Coral Reefs occupy less then one percent of the worlds ocean surface, yet they account for at least 25% of all known marine species. Often referred as the rainforests of the sea, more and more these diverse ecosystems are being harmed through the dangerous effects of ocean dumping, numerous forms of marine pollution, and global warming.
These wondrous underwater ecosystems are made up of colonies of tiny polyps, together forming corals, and secreting hard calcium carbonate exoskeletons. They are among the most unique and diverse ecosystems on the planet, with many species of marine life not found any where else. These include various types of fish, cnidarians, sponges, echinoderms, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans. They are primarily located in warm, shallow waters usually within 30 degrees north or south of the prime meridian, (though there are exceptions). These very specific conditions make them especially sensitive to water temperature, pollution and various types of ocean dumping.
Coral Reefs provide natural ecosystem services to fisheries, act as natural shoreline protection preventing flooding and erosion. They also act as unique and educational tourist attractions to millions of people around the world every year. It is estimated that coral reefs have a global economic value of 375 billion dollars.
However these fragile and unique ecosystems have become increasingly more endangered due to human actions through the effects of ocean dumping. One of the main effects of ocean dumping (originating on land through run-off) on coral reefs is eutrophication. This is defined as when there is an excessive amount of nutrient content in the water and decreased oxygen. This in the past has lead to an increased amount of algae growth in reefs, which crowds out corals and otherwise degrades and diminishes the ecosystem. Coral reefs are also sensitive to pesticides, sewage and sediment deposits that have been increasing in the recent years due to local human populations expanding and developing their coastal areas. Pesticides interfere with coral growth, sewage introduces various pathogens into the already sensitive ecosystem, and sediment interferes with coral reproduction. In the Caribbean over eighty percent of coral degradation is due to ocean dumping from agricultural and urban sources, and less then five percent of their coral reefs are in good health.
The most common type of ocean dumping is marine debris. Marine debris is defined as any man made object or thing that is disposed of either accidentally or deliberately in the ocean or any body of water. It has existed for thousands of years, but has become much more of a hazard in modern times, as it has come to include many things that are non biodegradable as well as things that are outright harmful to the environment, and marine life. This debris tends to accumulate at the center of gyres and coastlines, which coincidently is where the majority coral reefs are located. Common types of marine debris include cigarette butts, six pack rings, and various types of plastic bottles, bags, and balloons. Plastic is a non biodegradable product, and is directly linked to the killing of several types of marine life found in coral reefs. Abandoned or lost fishing nets often cause coral breakage, and needlessly kill and entrap various fish and organisms found in coral reefs.
Even the most remote reefs feel the effects of ocean dumping. Ten percent of the worlds coral reefs are already dead, and sixty percent are endangered and or diminishing.