Why Do We Need To Save The Reef?

There are many answers to this question. Some might say that the reef enhances the beauty of Ambergris Caye, and without it, the island would lose its main attraction. Others might argue that the reef provides food for the people of Belize, and without this resource, people would suffer. While both of these reasons are relevant, perhaps what should be considered the most important reason for protecting the reef has to do with the amount of biodiversity that resides within this ecosystem. It is biodiversity, after all, that helps keep not only the reef, but also the world's environments, balanced and healthy. Biodiversity, like the "green house effect" is yet another environmental buzzword that surfaced in the last decade. In simple terms, biodiversity describes the tremendous range and variety of organisms that exist on the earth, including the many species of plants and animals.

Biodiversity also refers to the variety of ecosystems that the earth sustains, from the tropical rainforests of Brazil to the coral reef of Belize. The coral reef ecosystem, for example, is known to contain the second greatest amount of biodiversity of any ecosystem, after the tropical rainforests. The multitude of plants and animals that inhabit the reef environment have evolved to cooperate and work with each other. It is this cooperation and dependency on each other that has helped this ecosystem to thrive. Likewise, this dependency also has a downside_as threats to this ecosystem, such as pollution and global warming, continue to rise, biodiversity is lost (i.e. species extinction) and a domino effect results, causing additional species to become extinct. As we all know, once a species is extinct, it is permanent and irreversible. Interestingly enough, as a part of species evolution, all species eventually face a natural

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
extinction. But, when humans enter the picture, extinction often occurs at an accelerated rate and before its time. Any form of sustained human activity will modify the natural environment, affect the number of species in that environment and in extreme cases lead to extinction. The primary human activities causing species extinction are hunting, collection, and habitat destruction. Of these three, it is habitat destruction that most significantly affects biodiversity and sometimes leads to species extinction. Just think, if someone came and destroyed your home, and took away your food while he was at it, your odds of making it would be dim. This is the case for many species that depend on the reef, seagrass beds, or mangrove for habitat and protection, and find themselves out of luck when their habitat is damaged, dredged up, polluted, or even removed. When changes like this occur, affecting species population, the environment becomes imbalanced and biodiversity is severely threatened.

The earth is currently losing species much faster than at any other time in history due to changes to the natural environment for the purposes of development, agriculture, and industry. It is difficult to know what the long-term effect of the loss of these plant and animal species will be. One thing is certain: through a variety of processes, biodiversity provides the earth with clean air and water. The oceans, forest, and wilderness areas of the earth are capable of absorbing by-products of agricultural and industrial activity, so that greenhouse gasses do not build up. If we continue to destroy our land and oceans, particularly our reefs, and threaten the existence of many species, biodiversity will be lost, and the earth will lose its ability to recycle our wastes. This seems like reason enough to protect the reef.

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