Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful, diverse, and complex structures on earth. They provide habitat and foraging sites for many incredible species, from fish to anemones to crabs to nudibranchs. They provide food and other resources to millions of people worldwide. However, they are also highly endangered and face many threats around the world.
Reasons For Coral Mining
One of the major threats to coral reefs is coral mining. Corals are mined because they are a source of limestone and other construction materials. In some places they are also used as bricks, while in others they are used as road fill. This is occurs in places such as East Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific where coral reefs are common.
Dead corals are also mined as a source of calcium for supplements, as they secrete a calcium carbonate exoskeleton, which remains once the corals themselves are dead.
Corals are also harvested in smaller quantities for a number of other reasons, such as for the curios or jewelry trade, as live marine ornamentals or for use in aquariums. Corals are often collected, dried and sold on either to tourists or exporters as jewelry or souvenirs, which is unsurprising given their beauty and unique shape forms. Live corals and reef are also harvested and sold as part of the marine aquarium trade – either to private aquarists or public aquaria. This can be particularly harmful if the corals being trade are rare or endangered – which unfortunately makes them more valuable and therefore more lucrative to trade in.
Harmful Effects Of Coral Mining
1. Physical damage to reefs due to harvesting methods
Corals are mined using explosives to break up the reef to make it easier to remove. This is very destructive, not only to the reefs, but also to neighboring environments, as it causes sand erosion, land retreat and sedimentation. The removal of the coral reefs is harmful to coastal villages and towns, as corals provide coastal protection services. This is especially important in the parts of the world where hurricanes, monsoons and tsunamis are common.
Corals are very slow growing systems that form over hundreds of years, but are being harvested and destroyed at a much faster rate. This is what makes the mining of corals largely unsustainable.
2. Loss of biodiversity due to habitat loss
Areas that have been mined for coral show a significant decline in the abundance and diversity of corals present, and in some cases even show a complete depletion in living corals (Browne and Dunne, 2009). Corals are the foundation of a highly productive ecosystem, and provide shelter, nurseries and habitat for many fish species. Any decline in this key ecosystem engineer affects the rest of the food chain, and heavily-mined areas have been shown to have a reduced variety and abundance of reef-fish.
A loss of biodiversity is especially concerning in the face of climate change, as it makes the reef less resistant to changing conditions, such as increasing ocean temperatures and pollution levels. Ecosystems that have already been impacted by disturbances, such as mining, exist in a weakened state and are more susceptible to stressors, such as heat waves, and less likely to recover.
3. Economic losses
Because coral mining causes the loss of habitat and nursery areas for many fish and invertebrate species, it also has significant economic consequences for it can affect fish stocks. Declines in fish abundance can severely impact the fishing industry, as well as subsistence fishermen who rely on the fish as a source of protein.
Another economic impact of the loss of coral reefs is the loss of revenue from tourism. Reefs, especially tropical reefs, are home to a wide variety of colorful fish and other invertebrate species, which attract many tourists interested in snorkeling and scuba diving. If the reef is lost, it is likely that the tourists will disappear as well.
How To Prevent Coral Mining
1. Ban blasting
Coral reef blasting is a destructive practice to harvest building materials and other resources, that can be sourced in much more environmentally friendly ways.
2. Establish no-take marine protected areas (MPAs)
MPAs are an effective way to help increase the health of local ecosystems, as they often aim to protect areas of high biodiversity or locations that are important to the reproductive success of various species, such as spawning or breeding sites. Because certain areas are protected, corals within the area are able to act as a source population that can supplement other populations.
3. Set up and enforce management plans of coral reefs
If harvesting is allowed, it should be well managed and selective in order to be ethical and sustainable. It should also take into consideration the needs of the local communities who live in the area, so that they are still able to harvest what they need from the ocean.
4. Educate local communities
Sometimes, coral mining can provide short term benefits, that may appear attractive to locals, while in fact proving to have much worse long-term costs. Encouraging the community to get involved in protecting coral reefs because of the long-term benefits to everyone is more effective at ensuring sustainable practices than outright banning harmful activities.
1. Educate consumers
Like many conservation issues facing developing countries, coral mining or harvesting is driven by a demand from richer countries, which either lack biological resources, such as coral reefs, or have much stricter and better enforced regulations regarding the harvesting of natural resources than the poorer countries which supply the resource. In order to protect corals better, it is important to educate consumers to only support ethically and sustainably collected corals.
2. Monitor and manage the coral and reef trade in line with CITES recommendations
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is a global agreement between governments to regulate the trade of endangered or threatened species. As a consumer, it is important to know the legality of the trade of the species you are involved in, and your responsibility to ensure that your suppliers have the right permits for exporting, importing, harvesting and transporting those species. Although this role also does fall to the legal officers who are responsible for monitoring the trade in these species as well.
3. Promote certification schemes
Certificate schemes can be used as a method to ensure that the suppliers meet all the requirements of ethically and sustainably sourcing the species that they are selling to consumers.
How Can You Help To Prevent Coral Mining?
1. Be a responsible consumer
Make sure that you know the origin of your new coral aquarium piece or piece of coral jewelry and that it has been obtained legally and has met all the requirements of being sustainably harvested. Alternatively, try buy corals that have been farmed and not harvested from wild populations, as these don’t damage natural ecosystems.