The Sustainable Management of Coral Reefs

“In order to manage the Earth’s resources sustainably, their current usage needs to be re-evaluated” – With reference to what you know about global use of coral reefs, explain why such changes in management may be necessary.

Sustainable development can be defined as “the development of a society where the costs of development are not transferred to future generations” (Pearce, 1993). It is applied through four principals; futurity, environment, public participation and equity and social justice. The first principal, futurity, means that present generations should leave future generations the ability to maintain present standards of living whether through natural or cultural capital. The second, environment, means that we should seek to preserve the integrity of ecosystems. Thirdly, the public should be aware of, and participate in, the process of change towards sustainable development and finally the principal of equity and social justice implies fair shares for all including the most disadvantaged locally and globally.

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The sustainable protection of coral reefs around the world is needed because it is estimated that 11% of the world’s coral has been lost with a further 16% severely damaged. This is in a fact a greater percentage of loss than that of rainforest destruction. Coral reefs are important not only for thousands of fish species but they also play an important economic role in the communities that have grown around them. Threats to coral reefs include coastal construction, tourism, pollution and overfishing. Specific reefs that have problems with sustainability are the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Cebu in the Philippines and the Florida Keys in the USA.

The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from many different factors. It has been plagued in recent decades by coral bleaching, overfishing, pollution and coastal development. Tourism is growing at a rate of 10% a year which is resulting in increased damage to the coral. Rotting vegetation and fertilizes from the land are also affecting the coral because they make the water murky which prevents essential light from reaching the coral. Crown thorn starfish were once believed to be a threat to the coral so many people removed them. The starfish in fact were protecting the coral and the removal of them ended up exposing the coral to more threats.

The Sinai Peninsula in Egypt is mainly affected by Tourists. Due to advances in aviation flying time from Europe is now within five hours. This has resulted in an increase in tourists. Last year alone 800,000 people visited the coral reefs with 300 visiting everyday. This has lead to an increase from 10 to 120 boats in just 6 years with a projected 240 next year. Boats can damage delicate coral and therefore an increase in boats means an increased rate of damage to coral.

It is thought that 80% of coral reefs in the Philippines are in jeopardy. They are under threat from the processes used for catching fish and population pressure. The local people have started using dynamite as a means of catching fish but this is also damaging the coral. The ecosystem at this location has been completely exhausted due mainly to MEDC’s sponsoring the exploitation of the aquarium trade. This has resulted in people having to turn to catching nocturnal fish. Deforestation is also affecting the coral because it leads to more silt in the ocean which smothers the coral eventually killing it.

In Florida 45% of the coral has been lost since 1984. This is due to factors such as population pressure, pollution, coastal construction and tourism. Pollution damages the coral because sewage from boats and land can damage coral, as can water runoff containing chemicals, fertilizers, silt, and debris. Coastal construction is also affecting the coral because construction activities (like dredge and fill) can damage coral habitat and make the water murky. This is a problem because coral depends on light for growth so the murky water prevents this from happening. Physical contact from tourists with hands or equipment of boaters, divers, and snorkelers can also damage delicate coral.

Due to the problems that these reefs are incurring management strategies have been put in place to try and make the reefs sustainable. In Australia an area of the reef bigger then he UK has been declared a marine park and other parts of the reef have been zoned for different usage such as tourism, fishing and scientific research. To decrease the threat from tourists marine biologists have been employed as tour guides. Marine biologists will know how tourists affect the coral and will be able to prevent it. Another way to manage the corals sustainably is to protect the source of the coral more than the places that it transfers to. This means that even if newer coral is damaged the source will still be undamaged and therefore able to produce more coral.

In Egypt the coral reef has been declared a world heritage site and part of it has been made into a national park. The park includes some land because in Egypt the coral is a fringe reef. The European and Egyptian governments are also each giving 50% of the funding each towards the management. As in Australia the reefs in the Philippines are preserved by marine reserves and people are being educated in how to preserve the reefs and things that cause damage to them.

In the USA the reefs are strictly policed to make sure coral isn’t broken of and sold as souvenirs and legislation on coral exports has been brought in. In 1960 a coral reef sanctuary was declared (marine park) to further preserve the coral.

In conclusion the changes in management that have occurred in specific locations because of threats that are seriously depleting the worlds coral stores are making coral reefs more sustainable. Something can be said to be sustainable or partly sustainable if it meets the all or some of the four principals of sustainable development (futurity, environment, public participation and equity and social justice). The management strategies at each of the four locations mentioned meet one or more of these. In all locations the environment principal has been met because they have all declared part of the reefs as marine parks, which preserves the ecosystems. In Australia the equity and social justice principal was also met by zoning of parts of the reef for different usage. This means that two of the four principals are met by Australia.

In Egypt again the environment principal is met as well as the futurity principal because of the capital given towards management by the European and Egyptian governments. As in Australia two of the four principals are met. The Philippines adopted the public participation principal, along with the environment principal, by educating people in how to preserve the reefs and things that cause damage to them.

The USA is the only location that has only met one principal and not coincidentally it is the most severely damaged reef of the four examples given.

None of the specific locations are fully sustainable but three of the four have made substantial moves to becoming sustainable only the USA remains basically unsustainable.

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