When it comes to coral reefs, intricate, renowned systems like those of the Great Barrier Reef, Florida Keys, and maybe the Philippines come to mind. Their vantage from above procure images of azure waters speckled with shadows of the underworld, and below the surface, an otherworldly blueprint of a marine city; coral condos, shops and businesses with marine life darting between them.
Comparatively, coral reefs to marine life are what metropolis’ are to humans; concentrated clusters of the underwater’s living organisms. Home to 25 percent of the entire ocean’s marine life, coral reefs offer the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem—even higher than a tropical rainforest. Their importance for Planet Earth couldn’t be understated if we tried, but before diving into their significance, we want to answer some basics: What exactly are coral reefs besides an underwater home?
There are three types of coral reefs—fringing, barrier, and atoll—all established by coral polyps, basically larvae, depositing layers of calcium carbonate that form a hard shell. When thousands of these polyps cluster and deposit, a reef’s foundation takes shape and begins attracting other marine organisms, like those that form soft corals (sea fans), as well as algae and small fish. The entire reef then enters a symbiotic relationship with its new tenants—the hard coral protects the algae, and the organisms produce energy, which the hard coral feeds off—ensuring healthy growth and development. The larger the reef grows (both vertically and horizontally), the more species that begin to appear.
And this is exactly why coral reefs are important: a habitat for thousands of fish, marine plants and marine animals, from giant clams to manta rays and sharks. The complex layers of the most established reefs provide shelter, as well as feeding and breeding grounds that signify a healthy ocean.
Why Are Coral Reefs Important To Humans
So why should humans care? Aside from their distinct beauty, coral reefs provide income and protection for us land dwellers. Since most reefs thrive in shallow waters due to access to natural light, they are able to act as natural barriers for coastal regions. When rough weather or natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes trigger rough seas, coral reefs slow the momentum of destructive waves, often causing the waves to crash before reaching shore. This prevents erosion and destruction of coastal towns.
Additionally, when done responsibly, communities close to coral reefs gain access to a consistent food source, as well as a tourism opportunity through snorkeling and scuba diving. Coral.org estimates the annual value of ecosystem services from coral reefs to be over $375 billion.
Unfortunately, the significant contribution of coral reefs in our economy has led to their exploitation; just as many of Earth’s unique ecosystems are threatened, we now see it applying to reef habitats at a global scale, with systems dying from our home in Curacao to Bali.
Reefs die from localized threats, like overfishing, unsustainable tourism, water pollution and debris build-up, as well as global threats, including increased ocean temperature and acidity (due to global warming), which contribute to coral bleaching. This is when corals turn white after the expulsion of organisms and algae (their protecting layer) due to a change in living conditions (in this case, a rise in temperature and change in nutrients). Though the coral isn’t dead at this stage, it’s often the beginning of a slow death as the coral is left completely vulnerable and often doesn’t recover. Over 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 30 years.
Though we can’t get back what we’ve lost, we can try to salvage what we still have and take preventive measures from such destruction over the next 30 years, including the planting of new corals. The latter is one of the most effective ways to rebuild our ocean’s ecosystems, which is why we at Drumi have partnered with The Coral Restoration Foundation of Curacao to give back to our oceans and our planet.
In Curacao, the CRFC matures coral fragments on supporting coral trees before replanting them on the main reef to create new, independent coral colonies. Aside from being environmentally conscious with our mattresses’ production (like reducing plastic waste), as well as raising awareness on the importance of ocean health by supporting the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE, we donate a part of the proceeds from every mattress sold to the CRFC. This donation covers the adoption of a small piece of coral in the foundation’s nursery, supporting its growth until it’s mature enough to join the island’s greater reef. Our commitment isn’t just to a better night’s sleep, but to bettering our planet for generations to come.