Posted by: cgratton | April 16, 2009

Japan’s Coral Reefs Go Under Emergency Surgery

Coral reef preservation isn’t just a hot-button topic in Australia. These days, Japan is also being forced to take drastic measures to save its withering reef population.

Divers meticulously transplant coral buds in hope to generate new life

Divers meticulously transplant coral buds in hope to generate new life

Currently, the Japanese government is using divers to execute a long series of underwater coral transplants, an aggressive (and expensive) effort to reverse, or at least mitigate, the devastating damage that overfishing, pollution and coastal redevelopment have caused.  This endeavor comes in the wake of a shocking report, which estimated that up to 90 percent of Japan’s reefs have died within the past decade, said The New York Times.

In Japans largest reef, damage has grown to an area the size of approximately 100 square miles

In Japan's largest reef, damage has grown to an area the size of approximately 100 square miles

The area under the heaviest surgery is near the Sekisei Lagoon, at the southern end of the Okinawa chain of islands.  Here, divers and marine biologists are working incessantly to try to work their scientific magic and undo the extensive human damage.

Still, the Japanese aquatic ecosystem hangs perilously in flux.  Natural environmental threats, like rising ocean temperatures and elevated acid levels from carbon dioxide absorption, continue to threaten the reef’s livelihood.  More disconcerting still is that transplant efforts have a low success rate—only about a third survived from 2005 efforts.

For Japan, a country and culture so heavily reliant on fishing, the degradation of the coral reefs has enormous implications.  If the reefs die out completely, a vital habitat for aquatic wildlife will be lost, posing a threat to all species’ chance at survival. And as one scientist pointed out in the journal Science, the loss of reefs “have huge economic effects on food security for hundreds of millions of people dependent on reef fish.”

It seems to me, then, that this could put into jeopardy a vital part of their everyday culture—the loss of an integral component of their diet.  Think about it: Japan without sushi is like India without curries, Italy without pasta, France without baguettes and brie. It’s no wonder why the Japanese government is committing to this 10-year, multi-million-dollar project—the reef dilemma affects them environmentally, but also culturally and economically.

Hopefully the coral reef problem won’t reach an Irish Potato Famine extreme, but the implications are scary nonetheless.

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