I recently watched a documentary on the destruction of the coral reefs around the world. This has led to governments—local, state and national—to change regulations to protect the reefs all around the world. The three most accepted causes are all controllable items that humankind can easily reverse. Most scientists agree that the top three reasons the reefs are dying are: climate change, pollution
and overfishing. 

Reefs are made of tiny coral polyps which are a translucent animal related to the jellyfish. They have exoskeletons that are very hard because they are made of limestone. The skeletons attract other species that give the reefs their rich color. The reefs grow by dividing in half and then growing again, repeating the cycle often. As they are growing, they connect to other polyps, which creates colonies. Over thousands of years some of the colonies merge and this creates reefs. Some of the world’s reefs are more than 50 million years old. Okay, why am I writing this? 

Plants on the reef are food for the little fish, which are food for the larger fish and for many birds. The birds deposit food on land and this feeds land animals such as lizards and crabs, which then become food for larger land animals. Another example of the ocean’s destruction is that dolphins need bluefin tuna to help get their food. If the tuna gets rare this will hurt the diet of the dolphin. Additionally, without large bottom swimming fish it would hurt the seabirds by not scaring the little fish to the surface. All living things rely on something or someone else so the effects would likely have a trickle-down scenario. Everything could die (except squid).

Orange Roughy was not able to be caught in any numbers worth fishing for until the 1970s. This is due to where they habituated. This fishing “ban” allowed them to grow in large numbers and for long periods of time. Orange Roughy can live for 150 years or longer and larger/older fish produce more offspring. Orange Roughy does not produce eggs until it is at least 20 years old so after the 1990s when it was so cheap and popular, the population went down to 10% of what it was 10 years earlier. One study showed that an average size fish can produce over 9 million eggs but only between 1 and 6 survive, on average.

There are two types of extinction that scientists observe: biological extinction and commercial extinction. Commercial extinction occurs when there is not enough fish to sustain a viable reason to catch them. Biological extinction occurs when there is not a single fish of a species left out there. There are millions of species of all animals named, and at least 20,000 are fish and seafood. Scientists feel there are at least 800,000 more to be discovered. Unfortunately, the world gains and loses species every day. By the year 2100 scientists expect to lose 14 percent of the bird species, 25 percent of the mammals and 42 of the turtle and tortoise species.

There are some solutions for this problem. One method is fish farming, but there are detractors to farmed fish. One of the problems is since the environment is changed, much of the fish will be different than wild fish. Examples include farm-raised salmon that has to be dyed to make the flesh pink or orange. Also, mussels do not grow the same since the fish is not swimming in ocean waters. Another negative is that fish are fed pellets that are made from wild fish. These trawlers scoop up everything and grind it and make pellets without knowing what they
have scooped.

Another method is to create quotas, but enforcement is tough and fishermen do not like it since they probably could have caught more fish. This hasn’t worked around the world and over time. Another method is to limit the length of time fishing boats can stay out but this has the same problems as above. One last conservation tool is to rotate allowable locations for fishing. The problem is figuring out how long it will take to replenish the site. It may be possible to use a combination of all four methods and get good results.

Sustainable seafood is another great option. Sustainability means that product can be maintained at certain levels. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a leader in evaluating which species should and shouldn’t be eaten. You can go to their website for more information or go to seafoodwatch.org and download a
consumer guide.

For more information about this topic read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species.