Humans are actively destroying the coral reef ecosystems on Earth. Reefs are being overfished, bombed and poisoned, filled by sediment, and choked by algae growing on sewage and fertilizer outflow. They are damaged by irresponsible tourism and are being severely stressed by the warming of the world’s oceans. Some 58 percent of the world’s reefs are reported as threatened by human activities according to the United Nations.
The key threats to today’s coral reefs are poverty and overpopulation. Coral reefs support the livelihoods of millions of people. Human populations are increasing and today especially reefs in developing countries are seriously threatened. Despite declarations aimed at stopping illegal fishing or the live reef fish trade, there is zero political will and insufficient incentives favoring conservation and even less for enforcing the rule of law. Citizens should influence politicians to change this shortsightedness.
Fisherman often use potassium cyanide and other poisons to stun and capture valuable reef fish. Divers squirt a cyanide solution from bottles directly onto fish resting on corals, killing the corals and stunning the fish. The fish often escape into crevices and the fishermen have to break apart the coral to get to their paralyzed prey. With this technique not only the fish are poisoned, but also the coral polyps and other creatures in the area. Places where cyanide was spread will first form black slime, then they will just become dead coral rock.
Sharkfin soup is a delicacy in Asian cuisine and is offered at many functions or weddings. Some people believe that the shark fin is also an aphrodisiac. But nowadays sharkfin soup is not a rare treat anymore but it is consumed in much larger quantities and even found canned on grocery shelves. Sharks are caught on hooks, reeled in and the fins are cut off. The still living shark is then thrown back into the sea where they are eaten by other sharks or flounder for hours before suffocating, unable to use their gills to breathe and without fins to propel them through the water.
When people grab, kick, walk on, or collect coral, they also contribute to coral reef destruction. Careless boating, diving, fishing, and other recreational uses of coral reef areas can cause damage to them. On some islands the resorts use dynamite to create a passage for their boats. If here are no buoys, anchors are dropped which crush or break corals. Good samaritan tourists feed reef fishes, but this results in changing their feeding behavior and don’t graze on algaes anymore which can choke the corals.
One of the steps that should be taken immediately is the creation of marine reserves off limits to fishing. About six percent of the world’s land is in parks. But at sea, less than one-half of one percent is in any kind of protected area. At the same time we will have to develop alternative livelihoods for fishers and regulate the trade in live reef fish and other threatened marine animals.