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inable Farming Impacts Coral Reef Conservation
Agriculture is the world’s largest industry, and employs more than one billion people annually, generating approximately $1.3 trillion worth of food. Agricultural practices like pastures and crops occupy 50% of the Earth’s habitable surface. It is therefore important that farming practices are sustainable, to ensure the continued provision of food and employment, but also to prevent harm to the surrounding natural areas, including the ocean. Demand for agricultural commodities is increasing due to the increasing global population, which is placing strain on our natural resources. Sustainable farming operations can preserve and restore habitats, protect watersheds, and improve soil health and water quality.
Whereas agriculture occupies 50% of the surface of the planet, coral reefs only cover 1%. Despite this, coral reefs are some of the most diverse and important habitats on Earth. They form part of a complex marine ecosystem and are made up of many millions of tiny organisms known as coral polyps. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 60% currently dying. At this rate, it is estimated that our coral reefs may be completely gone by 2050.
Why Are Coral Reefs Important?
Coral reefs house the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem, and host more than one quarter of all marine fish species, as well as many other marine animals. Coral reefs also provide ecosystem services, such as subsistence food, protection from flooding, sustaining the fishing industry, and providing tourism opportunities. The disappearance of corals therefore has economic, social and environmental consequences (IUCN).
Threats To Coral Reefs
Several factors can result in the deterioration and degradation of coral reefs, including:
- Coastal development,
- Mining of the seabed,
- Natural stressors like El Nino,
- Dredging of the seabed,
- Overfishing and destructive fishing practices,
- Introduction of alien species, and
- Global climate change
Effects of Agricultural Land Uses on Coral Reefs
It is estimated that 25% of coral reefs are threatened by pollutants from agriculture. Unsustainable and intensive agriculture transmits sediment, inorganic and organic nutrients and chemical contaminants to waterways, aquifers and the ocean. The release of chemicals into the water results in algal blooms, which causes anoxic conditions, starving the symbiotic plants within the corals of sunlight and oxygen (BBC). These harmful algal blooms also have the ability to clog fish gills, reduce water quality and starve other species of oxygen.
Climate Change and Coral Reefs
Unsustainable farming practices can also result in climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change leads to the deterioration and bleaching of coral reefs.
Climate change is defined as “any long-term alteration in average weather patterns, either globally or regionally” (LiveScience). Although climate change is a natural phenomenon and has occurred many times in Earth’s history, the changes in weather patterns that are being seen today are caused by human activities, e.g. burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal (National Geographic) and are occurring much faster than the natural climate variations.
A shift in the climate of a region profoundly affects temperature and rainfall patterns. These shifts cause corals to expel the symbiotic algae living within their tissues. The algae are responsible for the vibrant colors of corals, and therefore a sustained increase in ocean temperatures results in what is known as “coral bleaching” – when corals turn white. If corals are bleached for long periods, the corals eventually die. A 2015 study done by WWF projected that the climate-related loss of ecosystem services provided by reefs will cost $500 billion per year or more by 2100 (WWF).
The agriculture industry is uniquely placed as an industry both suffering from, and contributing to, climate change. It is estimated that farming accounts for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions (Action Aid), however the droughts and water scarcity resulting from climate change, as well as floods and unpredictable rainfall patterns, are negatively affecting food production.
Effective adaptation to sustainable farming practices has the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The challenge is to find a way to develop sustainable agriculture practices which can increase production to meet the demands of and ensure food security and equitable distribution of resources for the growing global population.
The following technologies and practices are available to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (ISSD):
- Use agricultural inputs (i.e. energy, chemicals and water) considerately.
- Conserve and use ecosystem services for increasing production, e.g. nutrient cycling in soil to improve fertility and biological control of insects and diseases to reduce dependence on pesticides.
- Manage soil health to enhance crop nutrition through use of green manure, low or no-tillage agriculture, and reducing dependence on chemical fertilizers.
- Use irrigation water efficiently to save water. Conserve the quality of water by maintaining natural vegetation.
- Select crops that are adapted to the region and resilient to adverse climatic conditions. Use a wide range of crop species in rotation.
- Using soil as a carbon sink and switching to carbon-smart farming.
How Sustainable Farming Helps Conserve Coral Reefs
Land-based sources of pollution are a critical threat to coral reefs as all pollutants that enter catchment areas end up in the ocean, and understanding of ridge-to-reef changes is needed to ensure the conservation and survival of coral reefs.
The sustainable farming practices highlighted above will result in a reduction in runoff of sediment and harmful chemicals due to efficient use of irrigation systems and reduced dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, thus resulting in fewer and less intense algal blooms in the ocean, allowing the coral reefs to survive.
Sustainable agriculture and the use of new technologies that assist in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will also slow down the current rate of climate change. Reducing tillage, planting cover crops and using organic matter for fertilizer can increase the amount of carbon stored in soil, which will reduce the negative impacts of climate change across a region.
Although agricultural areas and coral reefs are often miles apart, it is important to acknowledge the interconnectedness of agricultural practices and coral reef survival. Sustainable and environmentally aware farming operations can directly contribute to the survival of Earth’s coral reefs, while continuing to provide food security to the 7.9 billion people on Earth.
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Frequently Asked Questions About what are the effects of agriculture on caribbean reefs
If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic what are the effects of agriculture on caribbean reefs, then this section may help you solve it.
What impact does agriculture have on coral reefs?
Effects of Agricultural Land Uses on Coral Reefs Unsustainable and intensive agriculture transmits sediment, inorganic and organic nutrients, and chemical contaminants to waterways, aquifers, and the ocean, endangering 25% of coral reefs.
What might harm the Caribbean’s coral reefs?
Overfishing is the most pervasive threat to the Caribbean’s reefs, which are at risk from local activities and pollution, which also include coastal development, land-based pollution, and marine pollution.
How are coral reefs impacted by agricultural runoff?
Coastal development, deforestation, agricultural runoff, and oil and chemical spills are examples of impacts from land-based sources of pollution. These factors can b>hinder coral growth and reproduction, disrupt overall ecological function, and cause disease and mortality in sensitive species.
Why are the Caribbean’s coral reefs declining?
Human-driven global warming is increasing marine temperatures and altering ocean chemistry in ways that make life more perilous for corals, including leading to more coral bleaching events. “We still have these chronic issues that exacerbate the situation,” Ganase told Axios. “And climate change being the worst of it.”
What are the top three ways that agriculture harms the environment?
Agriculture can have serious negative environmental effects, such as soil, water, and air pollution, but it can also have positive effects, such as capturing greenhouse gases in crops and soils or reducing flood risks by using specific farming techniques.
What harm does agriculture cause to the sea?
Eighty percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from land. When large areas of land are plowed, the exposed soil can erode during rainstorms, and much of this runoff flows to the sea, carrying with it agricultural fertilizers and pesticides.
What are the three elements that have an impact on coral reefs?
There are numerous ways that people harm reefs every day all over the world, including pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing techniques using dynamite or cyanide, collecting live coral for the aquarium market, mining coral for building materials, and a warming climate.
What three things are destroying coral reefs?
Despite their significance, coral reefs are dying all over the world due to warming waters, pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and physical destruction.
What are the top 3 causes of coral reef extinction?
Coral reefs are constantly threatened by a variety of regional and local problems, such as climate change, declining water quality, overfishing, pollution, and unsustainable coastal development, and they are dying as a result.
What are the top three dangers currently facing coral reefs?
Global climate change, unsustainable fishing practices, and land-based pollution are the top threats to coral reefs, and these dangers, along with others like tropical storms, disease outbreaks, vessel damage, marine debris, and invasive species, all stem from human activity.
Who destroys coral reefs the most?
The greatest global threats to coral reef ecosystems are rising ocean temperatures and altering ocean chemistry, which are brought on by warming atmospheric temperatures and rising seawater carbon dioxide levels.