Help celebrate World Ocean Day by visiting Nashville Zoo’s Florida Reef Tract Coral Conservation Lab to learn more about how you can save coral!
World Ocean Day began as a way to highlight the impact of human activities on the ocean, such as pollution, habitat loss, and overfishing. The ocean covers over 70% of the planet and produces at least 50% of Earth’s oxygen. Although the ocean is one of our most crucial resources, human actions have resulted in the depletion of 90% of big fish populations and 50% of all coral reefs have been destroyed.
Coral reefs are incredibly important to the ocean because they protect coastlines from storms and erosion. Healthy reefs serve as habitats for many other organisms and provide nurseries for fish and larva. Although coral may attach themselves to plants, they are actually animals. They typically form compact colonies of identical individual soft-bodied creatures called polyps. The colony produces calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton, which they build over for many generations.
Reefs are at risk because of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The disease was first documented in 2014 near Miami-Dade County but has spread to the coast and to reefs in the Caribbean. More than 96,000 acres of Florida's coral reefs have been affected. Without the ability to sustain living tissue, a coral colony will only survive for a few weeks or months. The coral, as well as all of the organisms that rely on them for survival, will continue to collapse without a solution.
In order to combat the destruction of coral reefs, Nashville Zoo is participating in the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project, along with 30 other organizations. The Zoo has created a home for 20 species of coral from the Atlantic Ocean and hopes to eventually reintroduce them after rehabilitation. During this process, researchers are working to identify the diseases affecting coral. Since coral reefs are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, DNA from multiple organisms is present, which makes it harder to determine a cure for the coral. The Zoo’s team will continue to monitor the coral and support its growth.
While the Coral Conservation Lab is not usually only visible on a Backstage Pass Tour, visitors will be able to view it in the HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center on World Ocean Day (June 8, 2021). In their natural environment, these corals are found in a deep water zone and are different from those one would see while snorkeling.
Your Choices Matter
Coral is greatly affected by disease, but the choices you make still have an impact!
- Be conscious of the products you're purchasing, like sunscreen. Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreens and can disrupt coral reproduction, cause bleaching, and damage coral DNA. Choose reef-safe sunscreen instead!
- Pay close attention to how you are treating the land you live on and native streams. Everything in our creeks, streams, and rivers eventually runs into the ocean.
- When you're visiting the ocean, be sure to: dispose of trash properly to reduce marine debris, avoid touching corals, follow clean boating principles and decontaminate dive and snorkel gear.