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How Reefs Protect the Land
Coral reefs buffer coastlines from the pounding of waves by absorbing most of the wave’s force. This protects nearby coastal property. Healthy coral reefs constantly grow and repair wave damage, providing continuous protection for adjacent coastline. Unhealthy reefs cannot grow fast enough, slowly eroding and exposing previously protected coastline to powerful waves.
There are several benefits to the protection provided by coral reefs:
Protection of coastal property
Protection of important ecosystems
Protection from tropical storms
Saves cost and maintenance of breakwaters
What is a coral? Although coral reefs resemble dead rock, they are actually a thin layer of living coral polyps stretched over the stony body of the reef. These polyps build the structure of the reef and repair damage to it. Growth stops if the coral polyps die. Other organisms help reefs grow – coralline algae cements the reef framework together and can add reef strength. But a dead reef slowly erodes to expose the coastline to the full force of the waves.
Like many types of disturbance, the pounding on the waves can be good or bad.
Waves bring nutrients to the reef making it more productive. Wave action also creates different zones on a reef (see “Reef structure” for more information). These zones increase diversity by providing a variety of habitats for reef organisms.
However, too much wave action will eventually wear a coral reef to sand.
Sustainable coral reefs continue to protect the coast when they grow at a rate that matches (or exceeds) the rate of erosion. Unhealthy reefs cannot grow fast enough and slowly erode to expose coastlines to erosion.
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