Recently I met up with a friend that had just returned from a holiday in Asia. She told me about how great off a time she had, exploring islands and gorgeous beaches. Everything sounded like paradise, azure blue waters, white sandy beaches, the friendly locals and delicious meals.
She was so excited about the boat trip she took to explore the reefs, she showed me dozens of photos of the most beautiful reefs, her having fun in the water with friends. It looked like she truly had a blast during her trip. The last photo showed an overview of the boat, with one girl sitting on the ground with a large bandage on her knee.
My friend told me with great concern that the girl had badly cut herself by swimming too close to the coral reefs. Pointing out that the guide didn’t seem to know how to handle the medical situation. On top of that, the girls boyfriend also threw a bit of a hissyfit and kept repeating that no clear instructions were given. The guide then just repeated that he believed all tourists knew that swimming too close to the coral reefs is not allowed.
This whole situation wasn’t only dangerous for humans, these actions also have severe impact on the sensitive coral reefs. The reefs are not just beautiful, they have unique and complex systems that are vital to the health of the world’s oceans. Roughly 1 quarter of coral reefs worldwide are considered to be damaged beyond repair. Another two third is under serious threat.
Can you believe that coral reefs have survived natural change over thousands of years, but many of them may not be able to survive the destruction brought by humans.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
“The greatest threat to our planet is the believe that someone else will save it” -Robert Swan
1. Be a Responsible Tourist
Often unaware, people damage coral reefs by simply touching them. Be careful when you dive and snorkel. You should literally leave only bubbles and take only pictures when you’re in the ocean.
Boats that run into corals can cause serious damage, always make sure to look for sandy bottoms or use a buoy if its available.
Support reef friendly businesses. There are many around and they are often the same price and quality (sometimes even better!) as others.
Don’t leave your litter behind. I guess this is a given even on land, but if you leave your waste near the water or even in the water it can seriously damage and even kill coral.
2. Reduce Environmental Damage
Development and construction can damage coral reefs that are located near shores. Building unnecessary new marinas, ploughing fields and docks can loosen sediment. Sediment is like pollution, it blocks sunlight and can bury corals completely.
Support organisations that invest in responsible development, this can be done two ways. You can do this by either donating your time or money to the cause that you deem fit (see point 4 for some awesome “protect coral reefs” organizations).
3. General conservation
Reducing your carbon footprint can protect coral reefs! Coral reefs are damaged when the environment around them deteriorates. So we can all contribute and protect the reefs by simply leading a more responsible lifestyle.
Start using less electricity and reduce those greenhouse gases. Recycle your trash, take your bike, walk, carpool or use public transport instead of getting in your car.
When gardening, use organic fertilisers. It doesn’t matter how far you are from the ocean, all storm drains eventually lead to the ocean. Talking about water, try to use as less as possible. The less water you use, the less wastewater and runoff will pollute our oceans.
There are dozens of organizations big and small that put in effort to protect the reefs. Start living by the motto “being part of the solution is better than being part of the problem”. Volunteer for local beach and reef clean up programs.
Even on holidays there are many groups that organize things like this. This way you’ll be useful and you can enjoy this new destination!
You could also help out by donating to an organization that focuses on saving the reefs. Some good ones that also have lots of interesting information on how to protect coral reefs are:
5. Spread the word!
Help others understand how important the reefs are and how important it is that they are conserved. Many don’t even know about this problem, they won’t know that they are causing harm. It is important that YOU tell them that they can protect coral reefs as well, with just a few adjustments in their routine!
I’ve got to say that this problem is a big one, a really, really big one. It might seem difficult for one individual to stop massive projects, or seemingly cause any change. Together, however, we can take a big step in the right direction.
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