To Save Coral Reefs, Start With Parrotfish

in StemSocial2 months ago

1.png

Coral reefs shield coastlines from hurricanes and flooding and provide employment and recreational opportunities for local communities. They are also a source of new medicines and food. Reefs provide food, jobs, and security to over half a billion people. On and near reefs, fishing, diving, and snorkeling generate hundreds of millions of dollars for local businesses. The annual net economic value of the world's coral reefs is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars. The indigenous people all over the world value these habitats as culturally significant.

Coral reef populations are, unfortunately, in grave danger. Diseases, predators, and hurricanes are examples of natural threats. Pollution, sedimentation, fishing activities, and climate change caused ocean temperatures to rise and ocean acidification. After all, we are a threat to our environment. According to a Caribbean-wide study, protecting parrotfish is the most important thing we can do to ensure the health of coral reefs.

Beautiful parrotfish are one of the most eye-catching in aquarium shops and are often a treat to spot when doing dives. These tropical fish has large beaks and vibrant colors that resemble their land-based relatives, as the name implies. Parrotfish are brightly colored tropical fish that spend about 90% of their days consuming algae from coral reefs. This near-constant feeding helps the corals remain safe and flourishing by performing the necessary task of cleaning the reefs. The parrotfish's huge beak can tear hard coral, which parrotfish has the world's toughest teeth. What goes in must come out in some form, and what comes out in the case of parrotfish is sand.

image.png

The Parrotfish and Our Coral Reefs

When it comes to reef health, parrotfish are most certainly the most critical species. They spend the rest of their days on the beaches, swallowing algae and dead coral and pooping white sand. The parrotfish consume the soft-bodied organisms that cover the coral and the algae that live within them. Besides, it devours the bacteria living inside the coral skeleton. When parrotfish poop out the coral they've eaten, the soft tissues are absorbed, leaving behind sand and a really lot of sand. A large parrotfish produces 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of sand each year, which equivalent to the weight of a baby grand piano.

Each parrotfish has around 1,000 teeth. It is in 15 rows and cemented together to form the beak structure, which it uses to bite into the coral. The teeth eventually wear out and collapse to the ocean floor. However, this isn't a concern for the parrotfish because another set of teeth is right behind the first, ready to chomp down on coral. When scuba diving, it is always heard how loud they are underwater when they crunch coral.

Fluorapatite, the second-hardest biomineral on the planet, is used to make parrotfish teeth. It contains calcium, fluorine, phosphorous, and oxygen. Fluorapatite has a Mohs hardness rating of five, which is more durable than copper, silver, and gold. The tips of parrotfish teeth are stiffer than any other biomineral on the planet. The teeth can also withstand a great deal of force. One square inch of parrotfish teeth can withstand 530 tons of strain, around 88 elephants' weight.

image.png

When Parrotfish became instinct, corals too.

Large animals' distinct characteristics also allow them to perform functions in ecosystems that small animals cannot. Large species, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to human activities. As a result, it is valuable to comprehend how the extinction of large animals affects ecosystem function. However, we now know that unless we restore the grazing fish that protect coral reefs from seaweed, most Caribbean coral reefs will become extinct in 20 years. This message comes across loud and clear in a new study titled "Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970- 2012," which was published today as the result of a three-year collaboration between the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the Caribbean Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

Many people believe that coral reefs' demise is a result of climate change. However, according to the paper, the loss of parrotfish and other seaweed-eating grazers has been much more significant than climate change in the degradation of Caribbean reefs so far. Although, it is true that coral bleaching and more acidic waters are two of the most serious consequences of climate change. Protected reefs from overfishing, excessive coastal growth, and pollution are more resilient to these stresses.

Over the past decade, however, people overfished parrotfish, and Caribbean reefs became increasingly furry with algae, resulting in a much less appealing sight, as well as a much less healthy and resilient environment. The following are the massive negative effect of parrotfish being overfished. Since the 1970s, the number of Caribbean corals has decreased by more than half. Moreover, since the mid-1990s, algae have dominated most Caribbean reefs. The mass extinction of sea urchins which are another significant herbivore and overfishing of parrotfish triggered the transition from coral to algal dominance. Another one is that the healthiest Caribbean reefs are those where parrotfish populations are still strong, such as Bermuda and Bonaire, where fishing activities that threaten parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing, have been limited or prohibited.

image.png

It's overfishing and not climate change.

It's heartbreaking that overfishing, not climate change or pollution, is the primary cause of the current Caribbean and even around the world's coral health. It may be hopeless, but it is not! Protecting parrotfish and urchins can aid in the restoration of coral reefs, and unlike combating climate change, it can be achieved locally and does not necessitate global collaboration and cooperation. Since algae stunts coral growth, ensuring that there are plenty of herbivores grazing the reefs will aid in its recovery.

There are many ways to protect these very important and beautiful fish and they are the following. We could protect parrotfish as completely as possible via fisheries laws and regulations. Another one is through monitoring and implementing these limits, as well as collaborating with local communities to reduce the effects on fishing livelihoods. It is also important that the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, or SPAW Protocol, has designated parrotfish as a specially protected species. Providing education on the importance and the benefits of these measures to communities and stakeholders is very helpful in protecting and saving the parrotfish and coral reef ecosystem.

We already know that shielding parrotfish and other herbivores from fishing helps to keep reefs safe. Fish traps and parrotfish fishing are prohibited on the spectacular Flower Garden Banks in the northern Gulf of Mexico, thanks to their status as a United States National Marine Sanctuary. Fish traps and spearfishing have been prohibited in Bermuda for much longer. Bonaire, whose entire economy is focused on tourism and is dependent on the health of its reefs, has long prohibited fishing. A brief lapse in these safeguards culminated in an abrupt deterioration in the wellbeing of Bonaire's reefs, prompting their swift reinstatement.

We should solve the issue of Caribbean coral reef conservation and even in another part of the world. However, our preoccupation with the challenge of climate change has led us to overlook local problems for which we already have solutions. Despite their immense economic and ecological importance to the survival of coral reefs and the products and services offered by healthy reefs, parrotfish are being wiped out. Saving Caribbean coral reefs is a major challenge. We can get it if we really want, but we must try and we'll succeed at last.


Note: All image in the text is from Wikimedia, except the cover image. The cover image is created by the author in Canva.

References

  1. Animals We Protect
  2. Coral reef ecosystems
  3. Tough Teeth and Parrotfish Poop
  4. From Despair to Repair: Protecting Parrotfish Can Help Bring Back Caribbean Coral Reefs
  5. Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012
  6. A Fish That Shapes The Reef
  7. When reefs die, parrotfish thrive
  8. Parrotfish are critical to coral reef health, study finds
  9. Mesoamerican Race to Protect Parrotfish and the Reef
  10. Coral munching bumphead fish give insight into conservation
Sort:  

It's overfishing and not climate change

Yea I saw quite a bit of documentaries stating this. I have also seen that people are making fish farms so can these parrotfish breed in that environment. But I guess it will still prevent them from cleaning the coral reefs since they are not in the correct environment.

I agree that breading in captivity will not help. We need to have a balance between the parrotfish breed in the captivity and those in wild. I think it is better to reintroduce the parrotfish in captivity to the wilds.