Coral Reefs form the foundation of our ocean’s ecosystem. In total, 25% of all fish species live in and around corals and half of all federally managed fisheries depend on coral reefs and related habitats for a portion of their life cycles. Local economies near reefs receive billions of dollars from visitors going on diving trips, fishing trips, and staying in hotels or eating at restaurants. Both our economies and our ecosystems are dependent on the health of coral reefs.
But besides all of that, we are too. Researchers in the Bahamas discovered a class of natural products, pseudopterosins, from a gorgonian coral (Pseudoterigorgia elisabethae) that have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, while the antiviral drugs Ara-A and AZT and the anticancer agent Ara-C were both developed decades ago from sponges found on a Caribbean reef. The chemical compounds found in certain corals even stimulate the healing of broken bones. Corals are now being recognized as a potential source of new drugs to treat cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, bacterial infections, viruses and heart disease, among other serious illnesses, according to the National Ocean Service. Coral Reefs provide us with our food, many of our emerging medicines, and even some of the money in your pocket (as well as a great place to vacation) but our understanding of corals, their health, and their own lives is limited. Many coral reefs around the world today are dying, and human activity may be partly the cause.
Coral reefs become bleached when the algae in the outer layer of the coral’s transparent skin dies, causing the coral to take on a sickly white color. This algae is the only organism inside of the coral that actually photosynthesizes, or draws energy from the sun. The sugars created by the algae make up the majority of the coral’s diet, although it doesn’t eat the algae itself. Once this algae is gone, the corals can’t get enough nutrition by filtering food out of the water, so they eventually die.
Their is good news however, many restorative movements are underway to bring the corals back to our seas in full force! One such initiative is Biorock:
Biorock is is a material created when steel rebar is submerged in salt water and a very small electric current is passed through it. This electric current causes the steel to chemically bond to the calcium in the water, which prevents rust, but more importantly, this layer of calcium continues to grow and coats the rebar until it becomes like solid rock, several inches thick, with a steel core. Not only can this newly created Biorock easily allow corals to attach to it and start growing, but it actually actively dissolves oxygen into the water during its formation, which allows the corals to breathe more easily and grow even quicker!
Next week we will be talking about the many ways in which Biorock and other restorative efforts can be used in conjunction with Seasteads to restore our oceans for coral and fish alike.