Functions of coral reefs

Although they cover less than 0.1 per cent of the earth’s surface, coral reefs are the most bio diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Coral reefs are important for many different reasons:

  • They protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms.
  • They provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms.
  • They are the source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains.
  • They assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing.
  • They help with nutrient recycling.
  • 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.
  • Reef tourism brings in billions of dollars each year and supports thousands of jobs. The Great Barrier Reef generates more than 1.5 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.
  • Medical benefit: Scientists have developed treatments for cardiovascular diseases, ulcers, leukaemia, lymphoma, and skin cancer, all from chemicals in reef plants and animals. Thus, they are often referred to as the medicine chests of the sea.