The corals that make up reefs around the world are living animals that provide marine species with food, fertile grounds for reproduction, and a safe haven from predators. Coral reefs host the most diverse array of species of any ecosystem in the ocean. Although they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, these reefs are home to more than 25% of all species in the sea. Because of their longevity – some reefs may be 40,000 years old – they record changes in the environment, making them archives for the ocean’s history. And modern medicine is exploring how corals might cure diseases and save lives.
But these beautiful creatures are in crisis. The precious corals used in jewelry have suffered greatly from overfishing to meet demand for this fashion item. Corals grow so slowly that it can take decades for them to recover, if at all. Other threats include destructive fishing gears, oil and gas exploration, invasive species, and climate change. Despite the severity of these issues, recent polls show that people remain confused about why coral reefs are at risk today and, moreover, why they should care.