“Sea” and respect … Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral reef ecosystem
“Sea” and Respect…Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral ecosystem
In 2012, with the supervision and financial support of multiple non-profit organizations, the Turneffe Atoll System was declared a multiple-use marine reserve. This was due, primarily, to the fact that it is considered the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere and, therefore, perceived as a “nautical rainforest”.
What is coral? Actually, the question should be “what ARE coral”. When scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral it may look like chunks of rock to you. In fact, these rock-like structures are the result of millions of organisms, called polyps that multiply in colonies. They cling together, are living and “breathing”, only feed at night and hide during the day. The reason they appear as being rock-like is because they have an exoskeleton, to provide them with support, which is composed of calcium carbonate. This is the same com that shellfish use to make their shells – this type of coral is referred to as “hard coral”. Another type of coral is referred to as “soft”, for it does not have a calcium carbonate skeleton. Instead, it supports itself upright by tiny spines.
Within Turneffe’s coral reefs thousands of animals make their homes. It is believed that there are possibly thousands of other unknown species which live in and around the coral reef. It is a scientific fact that it supports, within its folds, more species/unit area than any other area in the surrounding ocean.
Lastly, this coral ecosystem also makes contributions to the medical field from which research is currently underway to find cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections and viruses. It has been discovered, and which is of great importance, that the compounds within the Caribbean Sponge are used in the making of AZT which is the medicine primarily used to fight the AIDS virus. Also, corals and molluscs are used to manufacture orthopaedic and cosmetic surgical implants. Currently, there is on-going investigation to find out whether coral skeletons may be used for bone grafts. A soft coral known as Caribbean Gorgonian produces a compound used as an anti-inflammatory and, this same substance is also used in an anti-wrinkle cream. Taking into consideration that approximately 95% of the ocean has not yet been explored, the possibilities of discovering more and more medical uses for coral are practically endless.
So, when scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral please “sea” it and treat it with respect. Remember the numerous benefits it is contributing globally and that one day it may even save your life.