Fewer things are more precious and spectacular than coral reefs. These beautiful underwater ecosystems are essential for many reasons. Besides being home to one-quarter of all marine species, they protect coastal areas against storms and are a source of income to hundreds of millions of people.
Yet, coral reefs face numerous threats that could push them to the edge of depletion in the future. About 75% of these ecosystems are threatened by local and global pressures, including overfishing, pollution, warming, and ocean acidification.
The good news is that we can do a few things to protect coral reefs and improve their chances of survival in the long term. As you plan your next beach or coastal vacation, here are a few things you can do to help save this valuable ecosystem:
Protect Coral Reefs
Practice safe boating
Reckless boating can damage or destroy coral in seconds. A simple act such as dropping an anchor on coral can spell doom for the underwater world.
It is advisable to anchor your boat on a sandy area away from corals. This helps prevent anchor damage to coral reefs and other fragile marine environments.
Alternatively, use mooring buoys which reduce the amount of coral damage caused by anchors by more than 80%.
When snorkeling or scuba diving, be mindful of where you step and what you touch. Sure, you can admire the beautiful coral reefs but avoid touching them.
Coral reefs are fragile, and any form of contact can damage the small marine creatures.
Likewise, mind your fins when enjoying the underwater scenery to avoid stirring up sediments on the sea-floor bottom and smothering coral.
Follow the local guidelines regarding snorkeling or diving and educate your fellow divers on the need for exploring coral reefs responsibly.
Use reef-conscious sunscreens
Not all sunscreens are safe for coral reefs. Most of them contain ingredients like Oxybenzone, octinoxate and avobenzone which are toxic to corals.
It is estimated that between 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen find their way into coral reef areas. This is quite a substantial amount of sunscreen given that it takes just one drop of Oxybenzone in 6.5 Olympic pools to damage corals.
If you are going diving, wear a long-sleeved shirt or rash guard. If sunscreen is necessary, consider switching to mineral-based sunscreens, which are biodegradable and reef-friendly.
Eat locally sourced food
With demand for seafood surging owing to its high-value protein, the dangerous downside has been overfishing.
Fishers have been engaging in exploitative fishing practices which pose a pervasive threat to coral reefs. Such is the danger of overfishing, which threatens over 55% of the world’s reefs.
So, if you happen to eat seafood, ensure it is sustainably sourced. You can check Seafood Watch to help you choose sustainable seafood.
Avoid buying coral souvenirs
From making jewelry to decorating homes, coral has been a popular souvenir for many years.
However, many consumers are unaware that these souvenirs are made from living creatures that are core to a vibrant reef ecosystem. Both shallow and deep water corals are threatened by overharvesting owing to strong consumer demand for coral.
Corals take decades or longer to create reef structures; thus, harvesting them is doing more harm than good. It is best to leave them on the reef and not take it home or use them as gifts.
Support coral-conscious initiatives
Several hotels and tour operators are incorporating Eco-friendly initiatives aimed at safeguarding the future of coral reefs. Activities such as coral gardening are becoming a popular feature in eco-friendly hotels and resorts.
The least you can do is support these facilities by booking your stay on your next beach vacation. You will learn about reef conservation programs and how you can leave the reef better than you found it.
Properly dispose of trash and recycle
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Remember to practice these 3 R’s of sustainability anytime you step out onto the beach.
Reuse plastic bottles and recycle paper, glass or any other plastic at recycling centers. Properly dispose of trash to avoid having it wind up in the oceans. For those who smoke, do not leave cigarette butts in the sand.
Improper waste disposal can significantly reduce the lifespan of coral reefs by damaging or killing them altogether.
Reduce your carbon footprint
One of the leading causes of coral death is ocean warming resulting from greenhouse gas emissions by cars and industries.
These emissions also cause ocean acidification, making it difficult for corals to build their shells and skeletons.
Try lowering your carbon footprint by switching to clean transport methods such as walking, biking or using public transportation. These little but simple changes will go a long way in ensuring the survival of coral reefs for generations to come.
Do not hand-feed fish
Fish feeding is a popular activity in coral reef-based tourism. Tour operators use it as an opportunity to give visitors an up-close look at marine life.
However, this activity is likely to be detrimental to the coral reef ecosystem as fish provide a balance between coral and algae. Simply put, fish feed on algae within the coral hence enhancing its health and survival.
Therefore, by feeding the fish, this pattern is disrupted in that the fish will depend on human feeding, leaving the algae to grow on the reefs. This is likely to lead to the growth of disease-causing microorganisms that can destroy coral.
Protect coral reefs by volunteering in beach or reef clean-up events.
Several organizations work with volunteers in marine conservation, including Oceans Watch, REEF and Blue Ventures, among others. If you are good at scuba diving, there are plenty of opportunities to help monitor and keep the coral reefs safe.
For the coral!