The ocean is a big place. Untold billions and billions of gallons of water covering almost three-fourths of our planet. Within this global-wide flowing, surging miracle is an integral part of the existence and support of all life. Ocean reefs, created by the relentless life-cycle contributions of countless tiny sea creatures, have supported a complex and ever-expanding marine ecosystem for countless millennium. So how is it possible that something as well established and ecologically balanced over millions of years of stable development be desecrated to near extinction in less than two decades?
The answer lies in the very complexity that gave it the ability to maintain a diversity insuring its perpetual continuation. Unfortunately, the delicate balance that gave birth to so many possibilities was the proverbial “house of cards”. Each reef system had achieved a unique position based on the interaction of all the players within its particular ecosystem. All it takes then is for some part of the system to be altered in any way and the rest of the structure is compromised. Add another source of stress to the already weakened composition and it becomes a chain reaction with little hope of reversal.
In every form of environmental strata, it is an endless challenge to survive. Every species in some way is susceptible to being overtaken by a competitor or predator. In the world of ocean reefs, there is a wide variety of different species all vying for a secure station in the game of survival. As an example, when overfishing removed enough of the algae eating fish near a Caribbean reef, the existing algae groups gained a foothold and begin to overtake a new position in the reef system. Later when a disease or climatic change destroyed a large percentage of algae-eating sea urchins in the same area, the entre reef was overtaken by a sudden new complexity. The corals were overrun, the landscape changed, the food chain altered and many species were eradicated from the new system when they failed to adapt. This is not an isolated example. Not all of the sequences leading to failure of the reef system are the same but the ultimate results are consistent. It is not that the reef disappears; it is that it changes in ways that are unpredictable. New systems and new landscapes replace the old ones.
The tragedy is that the new systems are never as complex or as environmentally supportive as the old ones. The balance is forfeited and many species, unable to adapt, simply disappear. As each species is lost, another species is affected and the chain reaction continues. Entire systems are dying in less time than it takes for governments and institutions to study for answers that persuade more studies. Another form of chain reaction generally producing no active solutions. It is not just the reefs that are dying. It is the oceans. Entire fisheries are disappearing. Ways of life and means of survival are changing in ways that will effect generations to come. Which is a statement that assumes there is an end to the collapse at some point or at least an awakening and changes are made to mitigate the damage and stop the rate of destruction and collapse.
Just as there is no single answer to the question “What is happening?”, there is no single answer to the question “What can be done?”. But some of the more obvious problems do have straight forward solutions. Stop overfishing! Stop chemical, organic and material pollution of the seas. Support individuals and organizations that are actually taking action in the field and are creating positive results. Do everything you can to learn actual facts about the conditions of the world’s reefs and tell everyone you know.
My decision is to do all of the above and take real physical action in ways that I have seen make a difference. I am creating a Reef Nursery and Outplant Center with an Education and Awareness program in the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Keep with me as I let you know what happens along the way.