What Is a Coral Reef Sanctuary and Why Are They Important?
There are so many different issues that coral reefs face, with a range of threats to these wonderful ecosystems. Global warming is one of the main issues, with bleaching events killing coral reefs. However, this is not the only thing that causes major harm to the coral reefs of the world. Destructive fishing methods, coral mining, and overfishing all have a huge impact on coral reefs and make them incredibly vulnerable.
These actions are destroying coral reefs around the world, and therefore governments and organizations have started to promote coral reef sanctuaries and protective zones. These places have laws and legislations that protect the coral reefs.
In this article, we will look at coral reef sanctuaries, where they are, and how the creation of these are able to protect corals from threats from humanity.
Why We Need Coral Reef Sanctuaries
Fishing practices can really harm coral reefs as it creates an imbalance to the ecosystem. Fish eat the algae in the reefs and therefore allow the corals to thrive. Removing a lot of these fish means that the algae can take over the reefs, smothering the corals. Fishing also adds debris that can harm the life of the coral reefs. Nets, traps, and lines can damage the corals or trap fish.
According to the Coral Reef Alliance, overfishing is said to affect over half of the coral reefs around the globe.
Coral mining is also a huge issue that coral reefs face. According to Coral Digest, coral mining means that substrate is lost and therefore new coral polyps cannot attach and grow on the reef. This means that the slow growth of coral reefs becomes even slower, with no new corals developing.
These are a few local threats to coral reefs that have huge impacts on the overall health of the reef. When a coral reef undergoes overfishing, mining, and pollution, it will become really susceptible to bleaching and death. Because of this, coral reef sanctuaries are becoming a big point of coral reef conservation.
What Is a Coral Reef Sanctuary?
A coral reef sanctuary is a place where there are laws and legislations that protect the area. These things might ban fishing, mining, and certain amounts of tourism. There are different types of coral reef sanctuaries with different laws, depending on the government and the needs of the people who live and work around the reefs.
A coral reef sanctuary can refer to a no-take zone. According to National Geographic, a no-take zone is a place where no extractive activities can occur. This means that activity that takes from the area is banned, such as fishing or mining.
These places are normally within larger protected zones, such as marine protected areas. However, marine protected areas can still allow for extractive activities.
Green Zones in The Great Barrier Reef
In 2004, the Great Barrier Reef was partitioned into color-coded zones. The different colors signified different regulations and what activities are permitted. The green zones in the Great Barrier Reef refer to no-take zones. They are sanctuaries that ban fishing and any activity that might harm the ecosystem.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary contains wonderful shallow coral reefs and these are protected and regulated. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary ban fishing, discharging any matter, and touching any corals. They also have buoys in the area in order to stop anchoring that might affect the reefs.
These laws are regulated well, with enforcing officers patrolling the sanctuary. Fines are given out to anyone that breaks the rules.
Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
This coral reef sanctuary is located off the coast of Georgia in the Atlantic Ocean. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are many activities that are banned throughout the sanctuary.
These activities include fishing, anchoring, dredging, and harvesting corals. They are regulated, with fines given to those breaking the rules.
The Coral Reef Sanctuary of Chumbe Island
Chumbe Island in Tanzania is the home of a coral reef sanctuary that has been preserved and protected for many years. According to the Chumbe Island website, the reef contains 90% of East Africa’s hard coral species and more than 400 reef fish species.
The corals here flourish and thrive because they are protected. Fishing and unauthorized anchoring in the area are banned, allowing the ecosystem to be stable and strong.
Do Coral Reef Sanctuaries Work?
Coral reef sanctuaries and no-take zones are vital in the conservation of coral reefs. According to a paper published in the journal Science Advances, eco-system based management can increase the health of coral reefs.
Scientists studied 12 islands in the Caribbean and compared coral reefs in the area. They looked at fished and unfished coral reefs. They found that the coral reefs where no fishing occurred had a 62% increase in juvenile coral colonies which meant that the coral reefs were more likely to withstand larger ecological stressors, such as a heatwave.
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico is another sanctuary that protects coral reefs, and the ecosystem there is strong, healthy, and stable. According to the Good News Network, because of the success in the area, the sanctuary has now been expanded to protect more coral reefs.
A report published in Nature also discussed the importance of protecting the waters which contain coral reefs. Researchers studied coral reefs and what communities and governments are doing to protect them. They found that the reefs that were managed well, with rules regarding fishing and such, were more likely to be healthy and better equipped to deal with heat stress and pollution.
In creating a coral reef sanctuary, we are giving the reefs the space to grow and become strong. With the right balance of fish, corals, and other marine life, the reefs ecosystem works together to flourish. This means that when it comes to bigger events, such as mass bleaching, the coral reefs are much more likely to survive them.
We can see how important coral reef sanctuaries are, now we just need to grow them and protect more coral reefs.