Coral reefs are under assault and we need to voice their pain or else it
might get too late, to make amends for them.
Coral reefs are popularly known as the rainforest of the ocean world and they
are also home to one-third of the marine species. But a startling depletion has
been witnessed in the number of coral reefs in the last few decades due to many
reasons like the ocean acidification, bleaching of corals, outbreaks of
coral-eating starfish, dynamite and cyanide fishing, illegal poaching of
exclusive corals and many more. Coral reefs are the foundation of sea life and
without them, sea will be blood without heart- completely useless.
The year 1997 was declared as Year of the Reef for spreading worldwide awareness
with regard to aquatic ecosystem which is under attack by the humans due to
their undying lust for exploitation of our nature. These reefs are of great
significance as they provide high biological richness and products and services
to human beings.
It has been marked that before 1998 the harm caused to coral reefs could not be
well noted as there were not efficient techniques to go underwater and the
marine scientists usually relied on guesswork and anecdotal evidence which gave
a rough figure that about 10% of the reefs were dead and another 30% would die
in the upcoming 20-30 years if precautions are not taken.
The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) was formed in 1996 and the main
purpose of the organization was to collect, produce and spread the information
about the coral reef health and suggest all the nations for a precise reef
This organizations will help the nations to keep a check on the deteriorating
condition of the reefs and as per the 2004 GCRMN report it was claimed that
about 20% of the world's corals were dead and about another 20% were facing an
impending hazard due to the ignorant human activities.
The existing international legislations with respect to sea law and coral reefs
are neither sufficient and nor are they implemented appropriately. Even though,
the countries are suggested to have regulations for conservation of coral reefs
and other environment-based laws.
There are multi-lateral nature related agreements ratified and adopted by
countries with the backing of international and inter-governmental
organizations. But all these agreements can be fruitful only if they are
implemented in all stages of the country- local, state and national
level. Due to lack of initiatives and awareness regarding the depletion, this
arena is often ignored by majority of the countries and thus it is important to
get a legally enforceable uniform regime for preservation of reefs and aquatic
life, which should be binding for all the member nations.
The major reasons for degradation of reefs can be classified into three
categories- natural causes, direct human causes and indirect human causes.
Natural causes are the ones which may affect the reefs in form of hurricanes,
underwater earthquakes, seabed volcanoes, typhoons and more and these natural
causes are somewhere the consequences of climate change. Some of the alarming
causes affecting the reefs are direct human causes like sedimentation,
overfishing, sewage pollution and over usage of fertilizers.
These causes extinguish the biodiversity of corals rapidly. Even the new fishing
techniques of using fine mesh nets, cyanide poisoning, use of dynamite leads to
their deterioration. Apart from that there is indirect human influences which
are climate change, global warming, rising of sea levels and one of the biggest
concerns is ocean acidification due to excessive carbon dioxide absorption. As
the oceans grow acidic the organisms stop depositing calcium carbonate and start
dissolving. Thus, these issues need to be addressed at an international
It is often ignored that why are coral reefs actually important for the survival
of this ecosystem as for a layman it might just seem like a bunch of colourful
rocks but in reality, they are one of the most intricate, varied and ancient
ecosystems of the planet. it is astonishing that even though corals inhabit less
than a quarter of 1% of the earth's marine setting but they are home to more
than quarter of all the marine fish species. In case the reefs vanish in the
near future, it would lead to catastrophic results for both human and marine
ecosystem. Reefs not only provide food to the humans but also act as shield for
the coastlines when they are hit by some natural disasters like Tsunami,
hurricane waves etc.
Many tiny Caribbean island's economy is dependent on coral reefs and in case of
their disappearance, an essential food and medicinal source would be adversely
affected and so will be the habitat of aquatic creatures.
It is often seen, that even though degradation of coral reefs is a prime issue
with regard to saving the ecosystem of all living beings, yet it is never seen
as a political agenda by any national or international institutions.
There is no separate international treaty made exclusively for the purpose of
safeguarding the aquatic life and the reefs. There are only symbolic gestures
being made whereas no actual formal agreement is introduced for coral reef
protection and management. For example, the coastline of India is about 6000
km long and it occupies certain set of reefs, but the laws or policies
formulated for coral reefs are technically hypothetical.
There are certain provisions in Indian legislations incorporated for the
protection of reefs such as Environment Protection Act, 1986 and Wildlife
Protection Act, 1972 includes all the coral areas in India. Wild life Protection
Act has even recognised four species of corals, in its Schedule I Part IVA and
thus as per the objective of the Act, Reef-building corals, black corals, organ
pipes, Fire corals and sea fan come under the purview of wild animals.
There are many other laws mentioning coral reefs but they are not sufficient and
the coral reefs are given no special status like islands, coastal areas. The
only significant and punitive law India corporates, is that Coastal Regulation
Zone in the notification of 1991under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which
restricts the industries, processes and operations for coral mining in the
specified tide line.
These laws are in regard with India but when the conservation comes to an
international level, there is a instrument which aids in conserving and
management of corals, known as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These are
references of the pre-existing patchwork of local, state and national attempts
made for guarding the reefs. These efforts might vary from nation to nation in
the amount of attention they are giving for protection of marine biosphere.
There are numerous legal instruments which mention the preservation and
protection of coral reefs either by direct or indirect means. But the level of
implication of such instruments depends on the number of nations who actively
participate, ratify and enforce such treaties into their nation-based
legislations. The major guiding document for ocean issues is the United Nations
for Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS).
This was a milestone treaty in the development of international environment
conservation and the treaty explicitly stated that the nations were required to
sustain their marine species even in the internal waters. Apart from this
convention there are many other conventions which speak about the reefs'
The Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and
Fauna (CITES) was adopted in 1963 and was open for ratification in 1973 and it
was finally enforced in 1975. The convention discourses the problems of
international trade of endangered species, which includes the trade of reefs
also. As per the reports, it was stated that there has been a growth in the
trade of coral reefs in the international market and it also marked that illicit
trade of corals was also witnessed.
And as per the latest reports of the TRAFFIC USA, it was established that
Indonesia leads in supplies of coral reefs (about 95%) and USA imports around
85% of the dead corals and 98% of the live corals in the international trade.
Thus, this convention keeps a check on the trade of reefs around the world and
also focuses on purchase of properly documented coral species and not by any
illegal means. If enforced properly, it can be useful in tussle of destruction
of coral reefs.
There are certain other conventions enacted for the protection of biodiversity
and preservation of cultural and natural heritage which give a special mention
for the protection of coral reefs. The United Nations Convention concerning the
Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage gives special importance
to the conservation of natural heritage which is under threat and might perish
if not preserved now. Some of the coral centric conventions are the Convention
on Wetlands of International Importance, has presented machinery for
international acknowledgement by marking of the coral reef's sites.
Lately, there are about 277 Wetlands of International Importance that
congregates coral formations all over the world. But the definition of Wetlands
might not be sufficient enough to incorporate all coral species.
In 1994, there were certain measures taken to bring about awareness on the
degrading position of the coral reefs and these efforts were taken by
International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). The founding members of this
initiative were Australia, Jamaica, France, Sweden, the Philippines, Japan, UK
and USA along with the UN bodies, regional organizations and multilateral banks
and even some environment-based NGOs.
The main goal of this initiative was to bring uniformity and coordination at
international, national, regional research and bring about better monitoring
programs to ensure effective and balanced use of such scarce resources. It also
concentrated on transparency with regard to information of marine species
required for proper administration of reefs and its associated surroundings.
Thus, it can be seen that there are many initiatives taken at international
sphere but they are not properly enforced in the respective nations.
Thus, there are certain recommendations on which the national and international
bodies can work to bring fluency in the working of existing initiatives and also
make people aware about the importance of coral reefs in our ecosystem. First of
all, there should be certain marine areas which should be demarcated as no
. These zones clearly prohibit the taking and harvesting of any
marine resources for any trade or personal purposes. Then, there should be the
use of better fishing practices especially in the areas where there are reefs,
the fishing techniques should be limited to only those ones which are least
harmful for the corals.
Then, for better recognition of reefs, the unknown species of the corals should
be added to the list of CITES, so that we can have a better track record of such
species. Lastly would suggest that the conventions lack one point in them, which
is that there is no punishment or fine mentioned in case of breach of any laws
which makes it way too lenient and thus people trading such marine species
illegally are neither tried or punished.
Hence, there is need of some stringent legislations which imposes fine and trial
sessions for heavy breach of any of the abovementioned conventions. Lastly, I
would like to conclude that human beings should try to sustain their lives in
accordance to other living beings rather than trying to establish their
superiority over them because if they revolt, we will be in no position to
- R. RIDDERHOF, Coral Reefs under Threat? Peace Palace Library, 23/04/2020
- Odyssey Expeditions, Living Corals, 23/04/2020 2:35 am, http://www.marinebiology.org/coralreefs.htm
- Rajesh Sehgal, Legal Regime Towards Protecting Coral Reefs: An
International Perspective and Indian Scenario, Law Environment and
Development Journal, 26/04/2020 02:13 am, http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/62E52771-F808-45FC-92D7-A76EC16175B3.pdf
- The Encyclopedia of Earth, Coral Reefs and Climate Change, 26/04/2020
3:14 am, http://www.eoearth.org/article/Coral-reefs-and-climate-change
- Dirk Bryant et al., Reefs at Risk: A Map Based Indicator of Threats to
the World's Coral Reefs 9 (1998), 26/04/2020 2:53 am, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248814390_Reefs_at_risk_a_map_-_based_indicator_of_potential_threats_to_the_world''''s_coral_reefs
- Supra note 3
- Devaki Panini, Law and Policy for Conservation and Management of Coral
Reef Areas in India, 26/04/2020 3:44 am, http://www.fao.org/3/x5627e/x5627e0m.htm
- Supra 4, Pg 189
- Supra 1
- Supra 1
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Rhea Banerjee
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