Coral reefs serve as natural protectors of coastlines during tropical cyclones because they reduce the strength of large waves before hitting the shore, scientists have found.
The discovery is just one more reason for the world to come together and work to save coral reefs, as their existence is currently being threatened.
Coral Reefs Protect Coasts From Cyclones
People who have experienced the wrath of a tropical cyclone know how much damage it can deal, especially to both the natural environment and man-made structures on or near coastlines.
Coral reefs, however, naturally protect coastlines and beaches from extensive damage caused by cyclones, according to a study by researchers from The University of Western Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
"Reefs can effectively protect shorelines because of their ability to cause waves to break offshore, thus limiting the energy impacting the coastline," said Michael Cuttler, the study's lead researcher. They studied Ningaloo Reef, the biggest fringing reef system in Australia and a United Nations World Heritage site, when tropical cyclone Olwyn arrived in 2015 to make the conclusion.
Olwyn was described as a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone, dealing massive damage to the Western Australian coast. However, Cuttler's team discovered that the shoreline along the Ningaloo Reef was left mostly untouched by the tropical cyclone. While there was minimal erosion due to the winds, the coral reef prevented the large waves caused by Olwyn from damaging the shoreline.
The researchers then compared the minimal damage sustained by the coral reef-protected shoreline with the damage caused by cyclones with the same strength as Olwyn on shorelines that did not have such protection. According to the researchers, the shorelines with no coral reefs protecting them suffers up to 10 times more damage compared to shorelines protected by coral reefs.
Save The Coral Reefs
In addition to protecting shorelines from tropical cyclones, coral reefs play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance in the ocean. They serve as habitats for marine animals, and also participate in producing oxygen for humans to breathe.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are dying. According to a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, climate change is the main culprit for their destruction, with ocean waters increasing to temperatures that prevent the coral reefs from healing themselves fast enough.
There are initiatives underway to address the problem, including the use of baby corals to stimulate growth and the creation of so-called super corals in laboratories. We all just have to hope that the solutions are not too late in saving the coral reefs.