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What is Coral Reefs Bleaching?

Mar 06, 2023

Coral Reefs Bleaching

Our today's edition of Current Affairs is here. Read to know more about Coral Reefs Bleaching. Also, find the topic's relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus below:

For Prelims: Environment and Ecology

Coral reefs, water corals, Coral bleaching, Fringing Reef, Atolls, Barrier reefs, Coastal Flooding.

For Mains: GS Paper III (environmental pollution and degradation)

About Coral reefs, Types of coral reefs, Significance of Coral Reefs, Protection from Coastal Flooding, Ways to Protect the Reef, Initiatives to Protect the Coral Reef


In the last three decades, the planet has already lost about half of its shallow water corals. And by the middle of the century, up to 90% of them will have vanished at the current rate.

Probable Question

Overfishing, bleaching, and cooking from warming oceans are all harming coral reefs. Why does it matter, though? (150 words, 10 marks)

About Coral Reefs

  • Coral reefs are essentially just big limestone structures built by thousands of tiny coral creatures called polyps. 
  • They’re found in more than 100 countries, and just like pina coladas, they belong in tropical areas.
  • India has about 570 species of hard corals out of which almost 90% of them are found in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

Types of coral reefs

The three main types of coral reefs are fringe, barrier, and atoll.

  • Fringing Reef: It is the most common type of reef. This type of reef grows seaward directly from the shore. They form borders along the shoreline and surrounding islands. Such reefs are found in Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Caribbean region. 
  • Atolls are usually circular or oval in shape, with an open lagoon in the center. Such coral reefs are usually formed on mid-oceanic ridges. Lakshadweep Islands of India are examples of Atoll Reefs.
  • Barrier reefs are similar to fringing reefs in that they also border a shoreline; however, instead of growing directly out from the shore, they are separated from land by an expanse of water. This creates a lagoon of open, often deep water between the reef and the shore. For example; the Great Barrier Reef along the coast of Australia.

Also Read: 4 New Corals were recorded in Indian Waters 

Significance of Coral Reefs

Protection from Coastal Flooding 

  • Some 200 million people around the world depend on reefs to protect their coastal communities from storm surges and waves. Many of those people live in the US.
  • Coral reefs act like low-crested breakwaters and absorb 97% of wave energy. This substantially reduces coastal flooding and erosion.
  • In places like Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, reefs help prevent $1.8 billion in damage annually, according to the United States Geological Survey. And if those reefs lose just 1 meter in height, $5 billion in property and economic damage is at risk.
  • With coastal flooding predicted to worsen this century, reefs will play an even more important role.

Planetary Resilience

  • Coral reefs cover less than 0.5% of the earth’s surface, but they are home to about 25% of all marine species.
  • It provides planetary resilience, a vast resource of potential scientific discoveries, and is the result of millions of years of evolution.

Medicinal Purpose

  • A huge number of modern medicine’s drugs are derived from natural sources. 
  • The anticancer agent Ara-C, included on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, is found in sea sponges on a Caribbean reef.
  • Dolastatin 10, a substance present in corals that are being studied as a potential treatment for leukemia, tumors, and breast and liver cancers, makes up for their lack.
  • One promising molecule, eleutherobin, that is believed to slow cancer cell growth is found in a common species of soft coral.

Food and Income

  • Coral reefs provide shelter and function as nursery grounds for some pretty commercially important fish, like grouper and snapper, as well as invertebrates like the lobster.
  • Some studies put the value of coral reef fisheries at $6.8 billion a year globally. 
  • About one billion people source their food or income directly from reefs. 
  • In countries like the Maldives, it provides people with 77% of their dietary animal protein. If managed well, reefs can continue providing this important source of food.

Ways to Protect the Reef

  • There are myriad ways to protect reefs such as local restoration efforts by transplanting coral, the establishment of marine protected areas that work like national parks, and stopping run-off from agricultural and effluence.
  • Climate change presents the biggest threat to the future of coral reefs, thus reducing emissions will give coral reefs their best shot at survival.

Initiatives to Protect the Coral Reef

Global Initiatives

Internationally many initiatives and programs have been taken to create awareness, protection, conservation, and restoration of corals worldwide -

  • International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) 1994, is an informal global partnership for the preservation of the world's coral reefs and associated ecosystems. It was founded by eight governments: Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 1970, is an American scientific agency focusing on oceans and the atmosphere’s usage and protection, falling within the United States Department of Commerce.
  • Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) provides scientific information on the status and trends of coral reef ecosystems along with their conservation and management within the network of the International Coral Reef Initiative.
  • Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA), 1990, is one of the largest global non-government NGOs focused exclusively on coral reef conservation.
  • The Global Coral Reef R&D Accelerator Platform to preserve and restore global corals with the help of science and technologies. It was founded by 11 nations.

Indian Initiatives

  • In India, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has included the ecologically sensitive areas (Coastal Regulation Zone, CRZ-I), also under the Coastal Zone Studies (CZS)and Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
  • Bio rock or mineral accretion technology has been started using the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with assistance from Gujarat’s forest department, to restore coral reefs. It is a method of applying low voltage electrical currents through seawater, causing dissolved minerals to crystallize on structures, growing into a white limestone (CaCo3) just like coral reefs.
  • The National Coastal Mission Programme has also been initiated to protect and sustain coral reefs in the country.
  • The National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves, and Coral Reefs has also been initiated but unlike other initiatives, this one has less strict policies.

News Source: The Indian Express

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a coral reef ?

Coral reefs are essentially just big limestone structures built by thousands of tiny coral creatures called polyps. They’re found in more than 100 countries, and just like pina coladas, they belong in tropical areas. India has about 570 species of hard coral, of which almost 90% are found in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

What are the types of coral reefs?

There are four different classifications of coral reefs that scientists generally agree on: fringe reefs, barrier reefs, atolls, and patch reefs.  

  • Fringe reefs: Around islands and continents, fringe reefs develop close to the shore. Narrow, shallow lagoons separate them from the coast.  Fringing reefs are the most common type of reef. 
  • Barrier reefs also run parallel to the coast, but deeper, wider lagoons separate them. At their shallowest, they can form a "barrier" to navigation by reaching the water's surface. 
  • Atolls are coral rings that form safe lagoons and are typically found in the middle of the ocean. Islands with fringing reefs around them typically sink into the sea or the surrounding sea level rises, creating atolls. 
  • Patch reefs are tiny, solitary reefs that emerge from the continental shelf or island platform's exposed underside. The majority of the time, they are found between barriers and fringing reefs. They come in a wide range of sizes and hardly ever rise to the water's surface.

Is coral reef banned in India?

All marine resources are protected by the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 1991. Under the CRZ1 category, all varieties of coral reefs are protected. Building hotels or beach resorts on coral reefs is forbidden by Section 7(2) of the law.

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