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05. HUMAN IMPACT ON THE REEF

5(a) Importance of Coral Reefs

Functions of Coral Reefs: Coral reefs are important for many different reasons aside from supposedly containing the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. They:

  • protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms
  • provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms
  • are the source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains
  • assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing
  • help with nutrient recycling.

This is why large numbers of marine species live in reefs. Other reasons why they are so important include:

  • The fishing industry depends on coral reefs because many fish spawn there and juvenile fish spend time there before making their way to the open sea
  • The Great Barrier Reef generates more than1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy, from fishing and tourism
  • The study of coral reefs is important for providing a clear, scientifically-testable record of climatic events over the past million years or so. This includes records of recent major storms and human impacts that are recorded by the changes in coral growth patterns.

Importance of healthy ecosystems: Reducing biodiversity through the extinction of species inevitably leads to the breakdown in ecosystem health and function. Healthy ecosystems are essential to provide us with:

  • natural resources, such as foods and drugs
  • services we depend upon, such as recycling and purification of water and air, the creation of soil, and the break-down of pollutants
  • social, cultural and recreational activities, such as those found in our many unique National Parks, World Heritage Areas and the other special places we like to visit
  • high species diversity.

A diverse range of species provides a larger gene pool, giving natural communities survival options when environmental conditions and climates change. Species evolve over time as natural selection favours the ‘best’ of these survival options. Therefore, extinction poses a greater threat to species for which there is limited diversity.
Existing species need to be conserved for scientists do not know everything there is to know about all species. A species may play a crucial role in an ecosystem and if it is removed, all organisms in that community may feel the impact. The greater the number of species and hence genetic diversity in an ecosystem, the lesser will be the impact of removing individual species.

The health, management and conservation of biodiversity, is a fundamental issue facing humankind, presenting a real challenge to biology today. The major factors that affect the health and function of our Great Barrier Reef are climate change and pollution. As Queenslanders, it is important that we develop strategies to protect our reef.


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