June 6th, 2013 by
Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Ogdonia Run, Loyalsock State Forest, Penn.

Ogdonia Run, Loyalsock State Forest, Penn. Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli

Forests are important for many, many reasons. This is something we can all agree on, I believe. Sometimes, though, it can get complicated conveying just how important some of the things they do are.

For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written the phrase “trees help stabilize soil and prevent erosion.” It’s a true phrase, but a little hard to get jazzed about. So a little bit of sand and dirt is moving around a bit; it doesn’t feel like a big deal — except that it is. And not always where we’d expect it to be.

It turns out that soil erosion caused by deforestation could kill coral reefs. As reported by Phys.org, deforestation in Madagascar has caused the sediment levels in the country’s rivers to increase fivefold, according to a study published earlier this week by a team of scientists from the University of Sydney, Australia. And where do these rivers flow? To the sea, where the sediment gets deposited on the seabed, covering up coral, which are then forced to work overtime to survive, which may actually end up killing them. And coral reefs are already facing enough threats from climate change and habitat destruction, with the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimating that a quarter of reef-building corals are in danger of extinction. The study also reveals a solution to the sediment problem: the restoration of forests. They estimate that by restoring up to 50 percent of natural forest, the sediment volumes could be reduced by up to 68 percent.

Sediment isn’t just a problem for coral, though. Remember that in order for the sediment to reach the coral, first, it must enter a stream or river, where it can wreak havoc. Beyond settling onto the stream floor and disturbing the water flow, extra sediment in the water becomes a pollutant for the aquatic species that live there, as the sediment can get trapped in fish’s gills. In addition, without trees acting as filters for harmful chemicals and other pollutants, the sediment can be toxic without even being ingested.

The bottom-line is that forests are vital to helping stabilize our soil — there’s that phrase! And despite its seemingly innocuous size and appearance, soil can be a killer. This is why we engage in riparian — or streamside — plantings every year. This year, we’re doing restoration work around waterways in New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont, to just name a few. And we couldn’t do any of it without your support, so from the coral, fish and other water-based systems, thanks for being a forest supporter.