April 19

Jenga Coral

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While enjoying a cold beer and watching the sun slowly set, taking her light and warmth back for the night to recharge, I found myself in a conversation with someone who, just like anyone was feeling a little dramatic during a golden hour. 

It was one of those moments where you are supposed to think about ‘life’ whatever that may be right?  He said that he thought it was that cool what I did, only he had no idea what exactly it is that I’m doing, but ‘it added value to life’ you get the point. 

But, he added, I do not understand why you chose for the coral reef and not for a foundation protecting people or animals on land. 

I just do not really feel so affiliated with the ocean or her sea life”, he continued.  First of all I thought it was stupidly brave to say that in front of an ocean piecefully breaking her waves in front of our feed. Secondly, it made me realise that to so many people it is unclear that the ocean and the reef is not only for surf chicks or VISCO girls saving turtles (not mocking them in any way) or any other stereotyping. 

Without any judgement I explained to him, and will to you, the importance of the reef while making use of a comparison with Jenga. Jenga I hear you think, but yes we all have played it and you are probably familiar with the frustration of the tower falling down during your turn.

Well, another common interest we probably share is food. Image the jenga tower as our food chain. A food chain is the sequence of transfers from food from one organism to another moving in a cycle. 

It basically decides who eats who. In general it works by the rules that the littlest species like plankton are eaten by plants or smaller fish who will be eaten by bigger and bigger animals. More towards the end of the food cycle is where we, humans, also enter the game. Sealife, animals and plants, are a healthy nutrition source for us. Wait wait wait before you say ‘I eat vegetarian or even vegan’. 

Sea life is also necessary to grow plant based food. For numerous reasons but mostly as without sea life in the waters carbon dioxide is not changed to oxygen and without oxygen nothing can grow. Alright, this sounds very dramatic and a bit reductive but is very true. I will break it down a little bit more.

Photosynthesis uses the energy captured from sunlight to power reactions that transform carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar molecules. This process removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides the oxygen that we all breathe. 

95% of the primary production of this is done by phytoplankton that comes from the coral reefs. More than 50% of the total oxygen in our atmosphere comes from Phytoplankton.  It is crucial that the coral remains alive because of the relation it has with the zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae use the carbon dioxide that coral releases in order to carry out photosynthesis. Besides that, zooxanthellae are not only the main food source for the corals themselves, but also for many other organisms. 

The oceans generate 85% of the total oxygen we breath. Without that oxygen, life on the rest of the earth will be more difficult as plants and trees will not be able to convert enough Co2.  

Okay, I promise that was all for the physical explanation. I will try to explain it from another angle. The amount of species of organisms in a habitat is called biodiversity. 

Coral reefs form the habitat of many plants, fish and other animals. About one third of the fish species depend on the coral reef as they can hide, find their food and lay their eggs there. 

Small (newborn) fish desperately need the coral reef so they are not eaten by larger fish the minute they are born. The coral reef is rich in nutrients, where the rest of the sea is not so much. Many species will have a hard time surviving without the coral reef and eventually becoming extinct. Resulting in the other 2/3 of sea life, that does not live in or around the coral, being very short of food supply. 

Many animals have a specific function in the reef and are adapted to their place. Often one species depends on another species and vice versa. This makes the coral reef ecosystem very vulnerable, increasing species to become extinct. As a result more and more sections are missing from the food chain. 

When the corals die, removing the plankton and other sea life from the food chain, the whole food chain will eventually collapse. So there we go, the Jenga tower. If you keep removing entire Jenga blocks from the bottom of the food chain, the entire tower will collapse.  

A lot of focus is on the amazon but we should not forget about the reef that has a much higher effect on Co2. Also the food chain on land will get out of balance because of the gap that is created by the disappearance of coral reefs. Remember what I said about the jenga tower… 

Corals lose their zooxanthellae because the water is too warm. Only a few degrees warmer can already be too much, meaning the zooxanthellae will die. But that is something for the next article…

By the time we finished our beer he said, so without coral reef, the food chain collapses meaning this bottle will remain empty at one point. That was not really the point of my story but does demonstrate the relation between sea life and life on the rest of the earth. With Coral reef being the bottom piece of the Jenga tower.

Curious to find out what you can do to help prevent the Jenga tower from falling over? Click the following link and help us protect and restore the coral reefs.

A shame I wrote the article in English otherwise the woord “grapje” would make total sense, curious to see hoe jij je Jenga steentje bij kan dragen? 


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