How does land-based pollution threaten coral reefs?

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Impacts from land-based sources of pollution—including coastal development, deforestation, agricultural runoff, and oil and chemical spills—can impede coral growth and reproduction, disrupt overall ecological function, and cause disease and mortality in sensitive species. It is now well accepted that many serious coral reef ecosystem stressors originate from land-based sources, most notably toxicants, sediments, and nutrients.

Within the U.S., there are numerous locations where coral reef ecosystems are highly impacted by watershed alteration, runoff, and coastal development. On U.S. islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, significant changes in the drainage basins due to agriculture, deforestation, grazing of feral animals, fires, road building, and urbanization have increased the volume of land-based pollution released to adjacent coral reef ecosystems.

Many of these issues are made worse because of the geographic and climatic characteristics found in tropical island areas. Together they create unique management challenges.

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Can a coral reef recover from bleaching and other stressful events?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Climate change and ocean acidification can result in mass coral bleaching events, increased susceptibility to disease, slower growth and reproductive rates, and degraded reef structure.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to a changing climate. In the long term, coral reefs around the world will benefit the most from the reduction of greenhouse gases. In the short term, we can improve coral reef resilience by addressing local stressors, like runoff from land-based sources of pollution and overharvesting of fish.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is helping local managers and communities do just that. The idea is simple. We know climate change is the single greatest global threat to coral reefs. Promoting reef resilience is a local solution. A resilient coral reef is one that can either resist a large-scale stressful event or recover from it. For this to happen, local threats must be kept to a minimum to reduce stress and improve overall reef condition. Scientists are also honing ways to evaluate how resilient a coral reef ecosystem is so that managers can take targeted actions that have the greatest impact.

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How does overfishing affect coral reefs?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Coral reef ecosystems support important commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishery resources in the U.S and its territories. Fishing also plays a central social and cultural role in many island and coastal communities, where it is often a critical source of food and income.

The impacts from unsustainable fishing on coral reef areas can lead to the depletion of key reef species in many locations. Such losses often have a ripple effect, not just on the coral reef ecosystems themselves, but also on the local economies that depend on them. Additionally, certain types of fishing gear can inflict serious physical damage to coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other important marine habitats.

Coral reef fisheries, though often relatively small in scale, may have disproportionately large impacts on the ecosystem if conducted unsustainably. Rapid human population growth, increased demand, use of more efficient fishery technologies, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of key reef species and habitat damage in many locations.

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How does climate change affect coral reefs?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific evidence now clearly indicates that the Earth's atmosphere and ocean are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases derived from human activities.

As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Additionally, carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated organisms by altering seawater chemistry through decreases in pH. This process is called ocean acidification.

Climate change will affect coral reef ecosystems, through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. When combined, all of these impacts dramatically alter ecosystem function, as well as the goods and services coral reef ecosystems provide to people around the globe.

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How do sea turtles hatch?

This item was filled under Facts, Ocean Life, Ocean Science


In summertime when the weather is warm, pregnant female sea turtles return to the beaches where they themselves hatched years before. They swim through the crashing surf and crawl up the beach searching for a nesting spot above the high water mark. Using her back flippers, the reptile digs a nest in the sand. Digging the nest and laying her eggs usually takes from one to three hours, after which the mother turtle slowly drags herself back to the ocean.

The sea turtle lays up to 100 eggs, which incubate in the warm sand for about 60 days. The temperature of the sand determines the genders of baby sea turtles, with cooler sand producing more males and warmer sand producing more females. The phenomenon is called Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination, or TSD, and governs the genders of other reptiles, too, including alligators and crocodiles. Current NOAA research suggests that warming trends due to climate change may cause a higher ratio of female sea turtles, potentially affecting genetic diversity.

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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Celebrating 10 Years of Ocean Conservation

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Ten years ago, President George W. Bush created what was at the time the largest marine protected area in the world. Today, we're looking back at 10 years of conservation of one of the most remote groups of islands and atolls—Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Don't miss our "Top 10" countdown.

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What is ocean etiquette?

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Wildlife viewing is a popular recreation activity, but it is important to know how to interact with ocean wildlife so that you can make the right decisions. Irresponsible human behavior can disturb animals, destroy important habitats, and even result in injury to animals and people.

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El Niño Made a Nuisance of Itself in 2015—Caused Tidal Flooding in Many U.S. Cities

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A new report, 2015 State of U.S. Nuisance Tidal Flooding, highlights nuisance flooding during the 2015 meteorological year and compares it to the outlook at 28 NOAA tide stations around the United States, which have collected data for more than 50 years. It also provides a new outlook for the 2016 meteorological year, taking into account the La Niña conditions anticipated to develop in the coming months. La Niña typically has less effect on tidal flood frequencies compared to El Niño, however the nuisance flooding trend is still increasing.

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High Tide Bulletin: June Outlook

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The rising and falling of the sea are a phenomenon upon which we can always depend. Caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, tides are very long-period waves that move through the ocean and progress toward the coastlines where they appear as the regular rise and fall of the sea surface. There are some factors that cause the tides to be higher than what is "normally" seen from day to day. This bulletin tells you when you may experience higher than normal high tides. NOAA is the nation's official source for tidal information.

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Celebrate our ocean!

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Join us as we celebrate and learn about our world ocean during National Ocean Month.

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