I had the opportunity to go to Lakshadweep which are a group of islands off the west coast of India in September 2008. The entire archipelago is built on dead coral beds giving the islands white sandy beaches and crystalline blue-green waters. It was visually stunning and definitely one of the most beautiful places I've been to.
It is home to some of the most stunning coral formations as well as sea-turtles, reef sharks, rays etc. Its delicate reef ecosystem is a reminder of how precious our natural biodiversity is. Almost all of the corals surrounding the islands were destroyed by the El Niño phenomenon but now show signs of recovery. To truly enjoy the splendor of the reefs snorkeling or scuba diving is a must. It immediately puts into perspective your smallness in the grand scheme of things. 2008 was the year of the coral reef - coral reefs all over the world are endangered as a result of human activity. Corals are very sensitive to temperature, salinity and acidity - all of which are being affected by global warming. Humans are effectively changing the balance of the last great frontier - the ocean systems.
Coral reefs support a plethora of species and are a hot-spot for biodiversity; much like the rainforests. They support 25% of all marine life and almost every marine creature spends part of its life cycle in coral reefs along with many species of fish which are of commercial importance. Apart from this, it buffers the shoreline from wave action. Places with healthy coral reefs and mangrove forests were found to be less damaged after the 2004 tsunami.
Threats to reefs apart from global warming include tourism, bottom trawling, blast mining of coral and pollution. Collapse of the reefs means decline of fish stocks, loss of biodiversity and subsequent loss of economy. 20% of the world's coral reefs have been effectively destroyed and show no immediate prospects of recovery. Scientists seem to be pessimistic about the future, with some reefs expected to vanish by 2020.
Coral reefs need to be protected to ensure future posterity. The way to do this is to reassess the way we live. Think about what you use as it eventually ends up in the ocean regardless of how near or far you are from the coast.