Coral reefs have long captured the attention of humans through their breathtaking displays of color, intriguing shapes and structure, and the abundant life they attract. But coral reefs aren’t simply interesting features of our oceans. They are crucial to the health and productivity of all ocean life. And today, more than ever before, coral reefs and the life that depends on them need us to act on their behalf.

Coral reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea,” housing massive amounts of biodiversity. In fact, coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean but house more than 25% of all aquatic species! And did you know that corals are actually animals, not plants?? They are closely related to jelly fish and anemones. Not only do they support many aquatic species, they help keep the ecosystem clean and healthy by filtering the surrounding water.

Unfortunately, coral reefs face an array of threats to their survival today. Most notably, warming oceans and changing ocean chemistry caused by increasing atmospheric temperatures and increasing levels of carbon dioxide threaten their future. Over-fishing, coral harvesting, pollution, and reckless tourism are also putting them at risk.

Taking action to ensure their health and survival is crucial for several reasons. Millions of species rely on healthy coral reefs for shelter and foo. The decline of coral reefs results in the decline of much aquatic life, including lobster, clams, fish, sharks, seahorses and sea turtles. Coral reefs also stabilize the sea floor and provide conditions for aquatic plant life to flourish. They are also immensely valuable to communities that rely on them for the fishing and tourism industries.

In celebration of Coral Reef Awareness Week, you can take action and be part of the solution. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Over-fishing is a major threat to coral reefs. Use a guide such as the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for consuming sustainably sourced seafood.
  • Plastic pollution is a problem in coral reefs. Even here in Minnesota, plastics you use can end up in the ocean. Avoid single-use plastics such as bags and straws and recycle when you do use them.
  • If you travel to a coral reef, make sure you practice sustainable tourism, like choosing to use eco-friendly sunblock, and don’t touch, harm, or disturb the coral and other animals.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint! There are many ways we can all work towards combating global climate change. Check out this blog for tips on some of the most impactful ways you can help.

What the Zoo is doing for coral conservation:

  • Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a species of coral we have at the Minnesota Zoo. This is a critically endangered species. The Zoo is excited and proud to be housing and breeding staghorn coral and aiding in conservation efforts.
  • In 2017 and 2018, Zoo staff Josh Moline and Christoph Noetzli traveled to Curacao to work on restoring the natural reefs where staghorn coral can be found with the SECORE program, an international coral reef restoration non-profit.
  • The Ulysses S. Seal Grant administered by the Minnesota Zoo has donated funds to coral reef restoration (such as the 2017 and 2018 research visits to Curacao) and to the SECORE program. These funds are critical to coral conservation efforts.

Through your visits and memberships to the Minnesota Zoo, you support conservation efforts such as coral reef restoration. We hope you’ll visit us soon and stop by our coral reef exhibits to learn more and soak in the beauty!

Your support will help ensure that projects like this will continue to work towards a future where wildlife thrives in Minnesota and beyond. Please donate today. Thank you!