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Coral reefs are threatened by a combination of ocean warming (with its acidification), pollution from human and agricultural waste, and the breakdown of the ecosystem. Reefs require a balance of small and medium fish ( such as parrot fish and surgeon fish) to eat the leafy algae. Otherwise the leafy algae will spread too much and produce large quantities of DOC (dissolved organic: carbon sugars and carbohydrates). This bloom of DOC causes a 100 fold increase in the microbes on the reef, which kills off the reef. This and many other fascinating stories from nature is in Ed Yong's book I Contain Multitudes. Reefs also need sharks to keep things in balance. The sharks are declining from over hunting/over fishing.
Coral reefs are based on a partnership between of reef polyps and algae inside them that photosynthesize. Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful and beloved ecosystems on earth, and this shirt is a great way to start conversations about reef conservation. Reefs support a quarter of all marine species, and have mutually beneficial relationships with mangroves and sea grass beds, protecting them from rough surf while being protected from loose sediment. It takes tens of thousands of years to establish a healthy reef, with old corals calcifying to a limestone base for younger corals, allowing reefs to remain in optimal depths while the seamount beneath them subsides.
Overfishing and fertilizer runoff lead to algae blooms that choke reefs, warming oceans bleach the reefs, and ancient reefs are blasted with dynamite to stun fish, making them easier to capture for food and sale in the aquarium trade. Coral have a symbiotic relationship with some algae which live on their surfaces; when pollution from runoff, exacerbated by irresponsible development, and heat make conditions unfavorable for these algae, they leave and the coral die. Plastic is also poisoning corals, seeping toxic chemicals and hosting bacteria than can infect coral.
Reefs are currently highly threatened, and we must do what we can to protect them. Coral Reefs: "Cradle to myriads of species. Millenia to create, moments to destroy."
Artwork by Marilyn Duke