coral reefs

Coral Reefs

All life on Earth began in the oceans. Maybe that’s why so many of us love to swim and play in the salty ocean water. At the heart of this dynamic and beautiful ecosystem lies coral reefs. These living organisms come in a seemingly endless array of shapes, sizes and colors, and they help support an incredible assortment of fish, plants and other aquatic life. Simply put, there is nothing as magical as floating slowly over the top of a dense coral forest. In fact, people come from all over the world to swim the coral reef areas in Hawai’i, from Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve (Oahu) to Honolu’a Bay (Maui) to Kealakekua Bay (Big Island). Coral reefs surround all of the Hawaiian Islands and 25 percent of the species on Hawaii’s reefs are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The crumbling coral reef and what you can do to protect it

Photo taken by John D. Ivanko

By: Liam

When I snorkeled around the coral reef of the Florida Keys, it felt as though I was flying because the water was as clear as air. I felt like I was hovering 15 feet above the ground with fish flying beneath me. I was inspired to learn more about the ecosystem and this is what I learned.

Coral reefs are a unique ecosystem like no other. Some of the fish that live there don’t live anywhere else. Coral is a living animal just like us. They spend their lives on the bottom of the sea. They are an important part of the ecosystem since they provide shelter and food to the fish. 

What problems face coral reefs?

One of the big problems that the reef faces is the exotic and invasive species such as the lionfish. The lionfish got to the reef by extraordinary means.   The problem started when the aquarium trade released lionfish into the wild. Although they have been in Florida for decades the only recently came to the Keys. They are now multiplying quickly.  The lionfish is a predator that eats young fish.  Lots of young fish are unable to survive. The lionfish has poisonous spines along its back.  Not even the sharks dare to attack a lionfish.

Another problem is this beautiful reef has become a tourist destination and some careless tourists will harm the reef. If you step on coral, it will die. With thousands of people going on the reefs every year, it really wears down the reef. Just like everywhere else, Florida also has a problem with people throwing trash into the ocean.

How to help protect the reef and what others are doing

• Eat the Right Fish

A local fisherman and owner of Castaways Restaurant, John Mirabella, spearfishes lionfish and serves it at his restaurant. Although you might not be able to fish the lionfish like John does, you can chose to eat fish that is sustainably raised and harvested. My family uses Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for the iPod.  The app shows you what fish are more common and which ones are being overfished so you can make your choice more responsibly. 

 • Travel Responsibly

Use responsible outfitters to go snorkeling. Some outfitters will gather everybody together and tell him or her all about the reefs and how to be careful with the reef and teach you not to damage it.

 • Collect Garbage

This is a very simple one to do.  It takes just minutes but it can save many marine animals’ lives. My family collects bits of plastic and cans when we were at the beach. It is a simple way to protect the animals of the reef.

If you are inspired by this blog, do something to protect and preserve the reef. I hope that you may be interested to help wash the reefs’ problems away.

Bio:  Liam is eleven years old and loves to tinker with technology, read books and go on adventures with his friends. He enjoys exploring nature, writing about it and, most of all, helping protect it.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: A Tree Falling in the Ocean

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 6, 2009 – 2:00 p.m. (Day 26)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs. John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

Everyone’s heard the riddle about whether a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around actually makes a sound. A similar analogy can be made for the work being one right now on the OSV BOLD; if no one sees what we do, just how valuable is our work?

images of school children listening to a presentation be given by a diverYesterday, some 200 people—about half of them students from local middle and high schools—got a close up look at EPA’s coral reef survey and the BOLD’s inner workings through an open house at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. EPA scientists, the ship’s crew and members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources served as tour guides, and demonstrated the coral reef survey techniques and diving operations currently underway.

Apart from seeing all the cool gadgets and gizmos that make the ship run, as well as our dining hall and living quarters, visitors heard about the importance of studying, protecting and enhancing the health
of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands. Bill Fisher, an EPA scientist from Florida who’s been contributing to this blog, told the visitors about how the Virgin Islands, like many small islands around the globe, are specially vulnerable to the potential impacts of global climate change and human activity.

Rising sea levels affect how close people can live to the coast. Elevated ocean temperatures can alter marine habitat and change how some animals, plants and fish function, including coral reefs. The reefs, Bill explained, benefit islands like the Virgin Islands by acting as a natural (and free) barrier to destructive storm surges; man-made barriers cost millions of dollars to construct.

Coral are also particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the water around them, so they’re good indicators of looming water quality problems. Bill was clear to explain how almost everything we do on land affects what goes on in and under the sea. He emphasized to our visitors, especially to the students, that lowering one’s carbon footprint can have a demonstrable benefit in their backyard.

Many of the students who came aboard seemed excited to see and hear about what we were up to. Hopefully we inspired them to take action to protect this beautiful and ecologically-significant place. Maybe a few will even become environmental scientists and carry on our work someday.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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