Jewels of The Bahamas
One of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, coral reefs have persisted for over 25 million years and most living reefs are between 5,000-10,000 years old! Corals are typically found in tropical and subtropical regions where they benefit from clear warm waters and available sunlight (though there are corals that live in deeper colder waters). Despite their floral appearance, corals are in fact animals living in colonies, which when combined with others make up a coral reef.
Coral reefs are home to a host of animals and plants which support the marine food web and play a key role in marine environmental health. Take parrotfish for example: they help keep coral reefs clean by eating algae, and they create sand as a by-product of the dead rock and coral that they also consume. Over 80% of the sand on our beaches comes from parrotfish poop! On the whole, coral reefs have a variety of roles called “ecosystem services” that extend their value beyond the ocean. Reefs provide coastal protection, food and medicine, and opportunities for livelihoods and recreation. This is especially important in The Bahamas where communities rely on the sea for sustenance, and coral reefs have become a major tourist attraction. Recognizing the value of reefs, The Bahamas became the first country in the region to establish a marine protected area (in 1957) and has since followed up by creating a network of marine protected areas to conserve habitats including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove wetlands.
Marine protected areas on their own are not enough to protect coral reefs. We humans can do our part by modifying our behaviour to reduce the impact of threats such as pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable fishing, and climate change. The Bahamas is a coastal nation; all actions, whether on land or sea can impact the health of our marine environment. Natural threats to reefs also exist, for example hurricanes and disease. In those cases there are also things we can do to mitigate their impact.
If you are a visitor, or new to coral reefs, we encourage you to learn more before you visit. Seek information on local regulations and guidelines from your hosts, and visit www.friendsoftheenvironment.org for resources.
Making headlines recently, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) is severely impacting reefs in The Bahamas and Florida. As its name suggests, SCTLD causes death of coral tissue, which in turn reduces diversity on reefs and eliminates habitat and food sources for other animals living on the reef. Help reduce the spread of SCTLD by cleaning your gear in between visits to reefs, and if you are a boater, be aware that your bilge water may become contaminated. For further info on how to properly disinfect your gear and bilge water, please visit: https://www.perryinstitute.org/sctld
Now that you’ve learned a bit more, we hope you take the time to visit a reef and safely enjoy the wonders for yourself!
Don’t touch or step on corals, this can kill them or make them sick and vulnerable.
Refuse/reduce single use plastics, ultimately reducingdemand for fossil fuels.
Conserve water. Reducing runoff helps keep our seas clear.
Only eat seafood that is sustainably caught (in season, up to measure).
Walk, ride a bike, or carpool to cut back on fossil fuel consumption and pollution
Support organizations working to protect or restore reefs.