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Coral Reefs: Natural sources of cancer medicines

coral_reef_4By Meghna

What do Lakshwadeep Islands, the islands of the Gulf of Mannar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the islands of the Gulf of Kachch have in common?

All of them have Coral Reefs.

To a common man, coral reefs would simply appear as hordes of beautiful colours and shapes, scattered across rocks, under crystal blue waters. But, in reality there is much more to coral reefs than just their beauty and vibrancy.

Not everyone knows that Coral reefs have medicinal properties. The substances extracted from Coral Reefs are well known to be used in making medicines for a wide variety of diseases, ranging from diabetes and heart diseases to Alzheimer’s.

A substance extracted from the Caribbean sea sponge, is used to manufacture a medicine named Ara-C, which is a popularly known and widely used medicine in chemotherapy treatments of people diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma.

Another medicine, Yondelis, which is extracted from sea squirt, is used in Europe to treat sarcoma.

“Coral reefs have an incredible diversity of life—from plants, animals and fungi down to the tiniest micro-organism. And this diversity holds so much potential for medical research. In fact, we are 300 to 400 times more likely to find that next big medical breakthrough in our reefs than on land,” Stephanie Wear, a marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy foundation was quoted by a website.

Many coastal communities and even nations—depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods, but, due to climate change, overfishing, pollution, and unsustainable coastal development, the reefs are now endangered. In fact, the coral reefs of the caribbean are known to have diminished upto 90% already! Due to discarded fishing gears,coastal erosion, development, deforestation and other terrestrial activities, increasing sediment loads are being transported to coral reefs via river discharges and surface run off. A combined analysis data spanning 25 years has revealed that in the Caribbean, coral reefs are declining at a rate of 5.5% – 9.2% per year. In the Indo-Pacific region, a 2% loss of coral reefs per year has been estimated. These activities have posed a severe threat to the coral reefs.

Today, 33% of coral species are listed on the ‘Red List of endangered species’ of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Scientists nowadays have been cultivating the coral reefs in nurseries and when they have matured sufficiently, they are restored back into the sea. The survival of coral reefs is essential for mankind to thrive, because they contain answers to a myriad of ailments.

It is quite possible that many of the benefits of these reefs are still unknown to us. Who knows, with the progress of science, we might just be able to get remedies for more and more ailments.

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