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"Ever wonder if corals are pretty rocks or living organisms? Corals are minute marine animals living in rock-like skeletons made from calcium. These unique creatures are in serious peril."

Photo by Courtesy Photo

Coral Reefs

4 Feb 2019 | Emily Hauck Marine Corps Base Hawaii

Coral reefs are not only beautiful, they are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Thousands of species and billions of people across the globe are dependent on reefs for one reason or another. With seemingly infinite structures and growth forms, coral reefs are unlike anything else on the planet. Their intricate, three-dimensional habitats provide valuable shelter for fish and other animals. Reefs play a vital role in the oceanic ecosystems.

Hawaiian coral reefs, stretching for more than 1200 miles in the Central Pacific, account for about 85% of all coral reefs in the United States. About one-fourth of the plants, fish, and invertebrates found in the Hawaiian coral reef are endemic to Hawaii, meaning that they cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Commonly mistaken for rocks, coral are actually tiny marine animals living in a calcium carbonate skeleton that only grows about 1-2 centimeters per year. Living corals and their dead skeletal remains provide habitat in a reef by offering sanctuary and food to fish and countless invertebrates. Reefs are responsible for feeding aquatic life and feeding humans as well. Traditionally, reef fish provided native Hawaiians with the majority of the protein in their diet. Still today, fish continue to be an essential staple for many island inhabitants and visitors alike.

Reefs are crucial for shoreline protection from erosion and storm damage by dissipating wave energy and limiting the impact of strong waves. Without coral reefs, the infamous white sandy beaches of Hawaii would not exist at all, since main the components of sand are fragments of coral, shells, and calcified algae.

According to the Nature Conservancy, there has been a 40% decline in living coral reefs in some areas over the last 40 years, and more than a 90% decline in some commercially important reef fish populations over the past century. This could mean big trouble for us.

Normally, a dying natural resource that offers storm protection, nutrient recycling, a food source, and millions of dollars to the tourism industry, would mean everyone would be scrambling to save it. That is not true in the case of coral reefs.  Today, urbanization, overfishing, invasive species, marine debris, and recreational overuse plague the main Hawaiian Islands. Researchers are working tirelessly to reverse the trend of worldwide coral collapse by growing corals in laboratories, utilizing GMO techniques to develop pollution-resistant species, and exploring coral transplanting methods.

While as a society we are gradually taking steps towards reef conservation, the experts are concerned it may be too little too late, anticipating total global decimation by the year 2050. The best way you can help coral reefs is to start in your own household!

Simple things you can do to protect coral reefs are:


·         When visiting a reef, practice reef etiquette. (Do not stand, touch, or anchor your boat on the reef)

·         When paddling, don’t drag your kayak or canoe over a shallow reef.  Be mindful of your paddle, and don’t dig it into the reef.

·         State law prohibits taking any amount of coral (alive or dead) from beaches or the ocean.

·         Use coral safe sunscreen.  Do not wear sunscreen in the water that contain the active ingredients: oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate or 4-methylbenzylidine camphor.

·         Organize a beach clean-up. (If you are interested in organizing a clean-up on MCBH, please contact Base Environmental at 257-7000)

·         Spread the word. Tell family, friends, and neighbors all about coral reefs and the important role they play in all of our lives.

Any questions about coral reefs, their inhabitants, or potential threats, contact Base Environmental at 257-7000.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii