Gulf Oil Spill Heightens Need for Coral Reef Protection

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Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

The recent offshore British Petroleum oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico poses a serious threat to the delicate coral reef ecosystems and associated coastal habitats lining South Florida and the Keys. The advancing oil plume, along with the use of equally toxic oil dispersants used during cleanup efforts, threatens to unleash further stress on an already taxed marine ecosystem left fragile from years of human encroachment.

The Gulf of Mexico is ecologically rich, yet suffers from local threats such as fishing pressures, agricultural run-off, and coastal development. These local threats are known to weaken coral reef ecosystems, making them more susceptible to environmental stress. Studies have shown that resilient reefs — reef systems where locally derived threats are measurably reduced — are better able to combat global environmental threats, such as climate change.

“Well-managed marine protected areas, as can be found in some areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, reduce local threats to reefs and increase their resistance to warming ocean temperatures,” said Brian Huse, Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance.  “The threat posed by the oil spill has the potential to wipe out decades of hard work.”

The oil spill’s potential impact on South Florida’s coral reefs will stretch far beyond the reefs themselves. Florida depends on these natural structures for coastal storm protection, sustainable food sources, and the income and employment generated from healthy fisheries and sustainable tourism. A significant portion of Florida’s $5.5 billion economy is attributable to its reefs and, globally, coral reefs add roughly $400 billion to the economy annually.

“By not investing in sustainable solutions to meet our energy needs, we are making an affirmative choice to put at risk not only our environment, but the health and economic interests of future generations,” said Huse. “We cannot continue to endanger this already fragile ecosystem with these types of extractive practices.”

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About The Coral Reef Alliance

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) unites communities to save coral reefs. We provide tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Originally founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown from a small, grassroots alliance into the only international nonprofit organization that works exclusively to protect our planet’s coral reefs. Visit www.coral.org or call1-888-CORAL-REEF.

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