It has been brought to attention that our coral reefs are not thriving as they once did. The damage they are experiencing is due to factors such as global climate change, marine debris pollution, and episodes of bleaching. However, reefs are an important component of global marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are responsible for providing residence for numerous species of marine life and increasing coastal resilience to storms or hurricanes. The reefs are deteriorating at rates faster than we can preserve them and aid in their regeneration process. One of the solutions to this predicament is constituting artificial reef programs worldwide.
For hundreds of years, it has been recognized that when sunken vessels or objects enter the ocean floor they are colonized by copious marine species. Corals, plants, and sponges are among the first species to make their home on the newly acquired object on the seafloor. The use of artificial reefs can be found on a global perspective, inhabiting the cold waters of the north as well as the tropical vacationing environments. In the United States, Florida possesses the most active artificial reef programs. Its uses include increasing the habitat space for the reef fish species and facilitating reef related research, in a way that does interfere with natural reef activity or the inhabitants.
The artificial reefs can be seen in a plethora of contrasting forms, including ships, military surplus, and other materials that will not easily deteriorate and cause harm to the surrounding ecosystem. Car tires were once used as a material for constructing the reefs, though they have been widely removed from the ocean due to their breakdown consisting of releasing chemicals into the water. Materials that are put into the environment are now ensured not to leak toxins into the area.
Since species are quick to move towards the new objects entering the water, the artificial reefs are successful in mimicking the naturally occurring coral reefs. Since they are similar in nature, artificial reefs can be utilized to increase biodiversity and conservation efforts. Fish are able to live in a new area and thrive, with the hopes of reversing declining fish populations. Artificial reefs can also be constructed to support specific marine individuals, such as octopuses by adding tubes for hiding places. There have been instances of coral transplantation, to speed up the process of growth on the wreckage. In order to protect these new species to the area, fishing can be restricted from the area to promote growth in the population.
There are other forms of artificial reefs that can be used in coastal areas, like reef balls and oyster domes. Reef balls are a smaller version of the large scale reefs mentioned above. They are typically constructed from concrete and organisms will attach to encourage fish to live in the area. Oyster domes, on the other hand, are used specifically for oyster attachment. This species of bivalves are key for the ecosystem by filtering the water to aid in its clarity. Different forms of reefs can be constructed to cater to the types of species found in the area and are desired to increased in population percentage.
There are an abundant amount of benefits in enacting the artificial reef programs. When they are strategically placed, they are able to reduce stress on the natural nearby reefs. It can increase conservation efforts by creating a place for fish to eat, live, and breed. Coral reefs are important aspects of the oceanic environment, if we wish to see them in the future it is up to us to step up. Actions need to be taken to preserve these marine ecosystems and their species, time is running out and they need our help!