Fire corals face the many threats that are impacting coral reefs globally. It is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been effectively destroyed and show no immediate prospects of recovery, and 24 percent of the world’s reefs are under imminent risk of collapse due to human pressures. These human impacts include poor land management practices that are releasing more sediment, nutrients and pollutants into the oceans and stressing the fragile reef ecosystem. Overfishing has ‘knock-on’ effects that result in the increase of macro-algae that can out-compete and smother corals, and fishing using destructive methods physically devastates the reef. A further potential threat is the increase of coral bleaching events, as a result of global climate change (7).
Most fire coral species have brittle skeletons that can easily be broken, for example, during storms, or by divers (3). Divers can easily break the branches of fire corals when diving for leisure, or when collecting fish for the aquarium trade. For instance, the yellowtail damselfish tends to dwell close to the branching fire coral colonies, and retreats into its branches when threatened. In Brazil, fire coral colonies are extensively damaged when harvesting the yellowtail damselfish, as the corals are often deliberately smashed and fishes hiding amongst the branches are ‘shaken out’ into plastic bags (8).