There May Still Be Hope for Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, often referred to as the rainforests of the oceans, are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems. One quarter of all the oceans’ species depend on reefs for either food or shelter. It is noteworthy to mention that they only cover one percent of the Earth’s surface and less than 2 percent of the bed of the ocean. Coral reefs are very important to our economy: the value of coral reefs has been estimated at around 30 billion US dollars. They provide food, jobs based on ecotourism and even medicine. (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History).

Unfortunately, we humans pose the greatest threat to coral reefs. “The threats faced by these extremely diverse and fragile ecosystems are numerous and difficult to control. In addition to weather-related damage, pollution, ocean acidification, coral mining, disease, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, coral reefs are subjected to the negative effects of global warming—increasing sea surface temperatures lead to coral bleaching, a process that makes corals become bone white and often die.” (Attanasio, 2014).

Established in 1984, the Abbot Point Coal Terminal is one of Queensland, Australia’s major coal export terminals. After conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment, the Australian Government has approved the expansion of the terminal. They reportedly found no significant impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The project originally involved a 3 million cubic meters dredging of the seabed and dumping of the sediments within the Great Barrier Reef Park boundaries. According to the Australian Marine conservation Society, dredging is the act of cutting away or lifting at sucking up the seafloor and dumping it somewhere else. It is undertaken to allow large ships to have easier access to the port. Dredging destroys the seabed and contaminants can be suspended in the water as a consequence, causing a widespread of impacts. A different dredging site in Queensland, Australia impacted corals 12 kilometers away from the dredging site. (Greenpeace, 2007). Recently, the dumping site was changed. The sediments will now be dumped in the Caley Valley Wetlands near the terminal. (Fight for the reef, 2015)


Source: Peter Broelman

A study conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has found that the suspended sediments from dredging “double the frequency of the diseases afflicting the corals”. They can even lean them to suffer from white syndrome: a condition that destroys the corals completely. Joe Pollock, the lead author of the study explains “White syndrome is like if your flesh fell off at the fingertips leaving just bone, and then kept going on up your arms and then the rest of your body.” (The Guardian, 2014), and the destruction of the corals will have a ripple effect up the food chain.


Source: Green Humour

According to Australian Marine Conservation Society and Greenpeace, the public consultation regarding this project was cut short and the public’s outrage was neglected.

A similar case is found in Miami, Florida, where corals are removed, either to be transplanted to an artificial reef a mile south to where they were originally or by blowing them up, to create a wide passage “in hopes to attract larger cargo ships into its port after an expansion of the Panama Canal”, as reported by the International Business Times. But researchers from the University of Miami have found large colonies of healthy corals along the channel. These colonies are important since their resilience could offer insight that could save the coral reefs. These corals could be the ideal research project to figure out how they have adapted and how corals around the world could possibly adapt to the ever-changing environment.


“In The Turf War Against Seaweed, Coral Reefs More Resilient Than Expected”. Science Daily. June 3, 2009.

Attanasio, Roberta. The global decline of coral reefs: Is there hope for Recovery?.July, 2014.

Jabour, Birdie Great Barrier Reef authority approves dredging and dumping to expand port. January,2014

EPA Water.

Dumping of dredge spoil approved by Great Barrier Reef authority. January, 2014.

Fight for the Reef campaign.

Boom Goes The Reef. Greenpeace. 2007.

Corals and coral reefs. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Ross, Philip. Massive port Miami dredge project ‘Wiping out’ vast coral field. June, 2009.

Alvarez , Lizette. Researchers Race to Save Coral in Miami. June, 2014.

International Coral Reef Initiative.