Exploring Ocean Zones

Critical Thinking Question

Lophelia pertussa and other deep coral reefs foster high biodiversity in an otherwise apparently barren area of the ocean. Many of the organisms found at such reefs are not known to live in other places. Given the high diversity of such reefs, what steps do you think should be taken to protect them? Are there drawbacks to such steps? Compared to other diverse environments such as tropical rainforests, tropical coral reefs, and desert ecosystems, how would you rate the importance of protecting deep water coral reefs? Explain your reasoning.

Possible Answer

Scientists seek to understand and explain how the natural world works. Many of the questions raised in this endeavor have no absolute answers.

Lophelia reefs could be protected in many ways. Perhaps the broadest protection we could offer would be to make them part of a Marine Protected Area and only allow scientists to enter the area to study it. This level of protection would mean that the reefs couldn’t be enjoyed by tourists or used commercially by fisherman. Another protection would be to limit reef usage to certain times of the year or to a particular volume of people using the reef during a time period. This would make the reefs more available to be enjoyed and used commercially yet offer them more protection than they currently have.

Scientists have been able to study rainforests, tropical reefs, and desert environments for many years but deep water reefs are only now being studied. While all of these environments have much to offer us in terms of biodiversity and potential medical or commercial products, the Lophelia reefs are perhaps more important right now because less is known about them.