Recent studies conducted on coral reefs off the coast of Madagascar indicate that our actions towards land-based ecosystems are having an adverse effect the ecosystems of the ocean.
We know that forests store carbon dioxide, making rapid deforestation one of the many factors contributing to climate change; not to mention the threat it poses to the survival of countless plant and animal species.
Climate change also poses a danger to the “forests” of the marine environment; coral reefs. Coral reefs, such as those off the coast of Australia and Madagascar, are the basis for some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
The results of the studies indicate that deforestation may be affecting the coral reefs in many different ways; ways that are both more direct and more devastating than we may imagine.
The effects of deforestation are easy to see above ground, but the consequences of what is occurring underground are not immediately obvious. Destruction of forests removes the root systems that play a critical role in binding soil in place.
As a result, greater amounts of soil sediment are washed into rivers by the rain, where it has a detrimental effect on the animal and plant life dwelling there. The soil is then carried by the rivers into the ocean, where coral reefs are reportedly being suffocated by significantly elevated levels of sediment.
Add to this the effects of certain farming practices on the land once the forests have been removed. These practices result in higher levels of soil contamination, which is washed into the rivers along with the sediment, and carried to the coral reefs, adding to the pollution already present as a result of other human activities.
Studies indicate that the rising levels of soil erosion and sediment pollution in these coral reefs have negatively impacted their growth and increased their risk of disease.
For a long time, climate change and its influence on coral bleaching has been one of the primary causes of concern for marine conservationists.
Coral bleaching refers to the process whereby corals expel their algae due to the stress induced by fluctuating ocean temperatures. The corals turn completely white as a result. While the bleaching process does not destroy them, it does make them more vulnerable to threats.
Coral is essential to the survival of the marine ecosystems that flourish around them, and it’s feared the rising ocean temperatures are promoting coral bleaching at a rate the reefs may be unable to sustain.
However, research indicates that global warming may not be the only threat to the survival of coral reefs. In fact, the data obtained suggests that deforestation and land use practices may pose a greater danger to coral reefs then climate change.
The research focused on coral environments in Madagascar, particularly Antongil Bay, which is famous for being a nursing ground for Humpback Whales. The diversity of climate zones in the region ensures that the results of the study can be applied to coral reefs all over the world, regardless of their climate conditions.
The research teams obtained data on the coral’s growth by examining their luminescent rings, which, much like the rings on a tree stump, can be used to determine growth history. They found that corals located near rivers suffered from increased rates of disease and abnormal growth patterns.
Madagascar has undergone rapid deforestation in order to incorporate increasing population density and the needs of growing industry. The results of this study support the belief that the soil erosion and sediment pollution resulting from this deforestation has contributed to the deterioration of the coral reef systems.
The research demonstrates that conservation of forests is not only critical to the survival of land-based ecosystems, but to those of the ocean as well, and that the issue of land use is as important to marine conservation efforts as climate change, if not more so.