Benefits of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse places on Earth, and their stunning natural beauty keeps thousands of tourists entertained each year. But did you know that even if you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a coral reef in person, you still benefit from them? Reefs aren’t just crucial to the creatures that live on them—they provide humanity with coastal protections and coral reef medicine, among other benefits. Here are some of the ways that coral reefs are important and support all of humanity, no matter how far away from the ocean you live:
Economic & Food Security
The most obvious benefit of reefs is that they are spectacular natural attractions that bring tourism money into underdeveloped communities and nations, as well as places of critical ecological importance, like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Without reefs, many coastal and island communities across the world would be bankrupt. In addition to tourism, the biodiversity of reefs ensures that the world’s fisheries are economically productive (the Great Barrier Reef generates $1.5 billion annually for Australia’s economy), while those who live near reefs have always depended on them for food.
A full 25% of all marine life lives on coral reefs, which is why reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea.” And just like rainforests, the sheer number of species and niche-specific adaptations among reef denizens offers a deep well of potential coral reef medicines for human society. One reason reefs hold such great medical potential is the large number of unique marine invertebrates, such as sponges, tunicates (stationary tubelike organisms), and mollusks (including snails, octopuses, and cuttlefish). Fierce competition on reefs has resulted in a kind of biological warfare, and the toxins and other chemicals produced by many of these sea creatures may have medical applications. The feasible medical benefits of these chemicals highlight the importance of coral reefs for humanity.
For example, the modern antiviral drugs Ara-A and AZT, as well as the anti-cancer drug Ara-C, were developed from chemicals found in Caribbean sea sponges in the mid-twentieth century. Since 1983, marine biotechnology research in the U.S. has yielded more than 170 new patents and 100 new compounds, and investment in marine biotechnology is projected to increase substantially over the next decade. Alpha Submarine Adventures hopes to contribute to that growing body of knowledge as it takes tourists through the Caribbean’s reef ecosystems aboard research-outfitted submarines.
As the planet warms up due to excessive burning of fossil fuels, higher air and ocean temperatures result in more intense storms. As these storms make their way toward land, they bring massive storm surges and waves that can devastate coastal communities. However, a substantial line of reefs can play a critical role in providing coastal protections to communities. Offshore coral reefs go a long way toward breaking up some of the largest and most damaging waves produced by these storms. Without reefs, coastal erosion would occur at a much faster rate, and storms would do more damage to infrastructure, property, and communities on the seashore.
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Whether or not you live near the ocean or have seen a coral reef up close, the importance of coral reefs and the ways they benefit you are undeniable. Alpha’s mission is to help preserve these important yet vanishing ecosystems so that humanity may continue to benefit from their incredible natural beauty and complexity. Make your mark on the world’s oceans—give any amount you can to Alpha today!