Coral reefs, which support at least 25% of marine life, are a hotspot for marine-related tourism, accounting for up to 40% or more of the gross domestic product in some island states.
However, coral reefs face many threats. They’ve been harmed by overfishing, pollution runoff, and climate change. Rising temperatures can cause coral bleaching, which is when corals expel algae living in their tissue and turn white. Over time this leads to death unless conditions improve again.
Keep Reefs Healthy
Coral reefs are important for fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection. They also provide a home for thousands of marine species that can’t live anywhere else. Coral reefs are threatened by pollution, overfishing, and global warming.
Many wastewater contaminants, including agricultural fertilizers, pesticides and organochlorine chemicals, home, and municipal wastes, trace metals, and petroleum products, have been shown to harm coral reefs even at low levels of discharge.
If you love coral reefs, or even if you don’t but still want to help save the world’s oceans and marine life, there are things you can do.
Reduce Pollution Runoff Into the Ocean
Many wastewater contaminants, including agricultural fertilizers, pesticides and organochlorine chemicals, home, and municipal wastes, trace metals, and petroleum products, have been shown to harm coral reefs even at low levels of discharge. These are extremely harmful to humans as well. As was evidenced in the Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Lawsuit, water contamination from waste disposal sites and businesses caused a plethora of life-threatening diseases for its residents. These included everything from bladder cancer to multiple myeloma.
Reduce the amount of pollution that enters the ocean by:
- Recycling aluminum cans, cardboard products like cereal boxes, etc., when possible.
- Check with your local government for information about how far away from storm drains you should dispose of waste like oil filters and automotive fluids.
- Avoiding plastic. Our dependence on single-use plastics is damaging our oceans and marine life, and we can all do something about it.
Cut Back on Plastic
The easiest way to reduce your plastic use is to avoid single-use plastics. This means using reusable containers, straws, and bags instead of single-use plastic versions. It’s also important to avoid products with microbeads in them.
Here are some simple things you can do right now:
- Use reusable water bottles instead of disposable ones.
- Buy loose produce instead of packaged items with excessive amounts of packaging.
- Buy food in bulk and put it in reusable containers rather than buying pre-packaged foods.
- Refill your water bottle at work or school instead of constantly buying bottled water.
Reduce Global Carbon Emissions
According to the UN’s annual Production Gap report from last year, nations aim to consume more than double the amount of fossil fuels by 2030, which would be consistent with a 1.5C climate.
The best way to help the world’s coral reefs is to reduce your carbon emissions. You can do this by changing your lifestyle.
- Drive less and use public transportation more.
- Replace your car with a more fuel-efficient vehicle
- Buy locally grown food whenever possible so that you don’t need to transport it long distances by truck or plane
If you want to take it one step further, you can also encourage others in your community and around the world to reduce their carbon emissions too. This could be done through grassroots campaigns or local initiatives like Earth Day celebrations. It could also be done through recycling programs in schools or workplaces.
Protect and Restore Habitats
Protect coral reefs by reducing pollution, banning fishing gear that can harm corals, and educating people about the importance of these ecosystems. For example, you can support local efforts to protect reefs from seaweed farming, reducing water flow over reefs and depriving them of vital nutrients for their health.
Restore coral reefs by replanting damaged or dead coral fragments or building artificial structures like artificial reefs. This will allow new colonies of corals to grow in areas where they have been decimated.
Act Responsibly Around Reefs When Snorkeling, Diving or Fishing
To keep coral reefs healthy and resilient, it’s important to act with care and respect when visiting them. Here are some guidelines:
Don’t touch the coral. Coral has a delicate structure that is easily damaged by human contact, impairing its ability to reproduce and survive long-term stressors like pollution and bleaching.
Don’t use anchors on the reef. Anchoring damages corals in two ways: firstly, it breaks off pieces of coral when you’re pulling your boat up, which can kill it outright. Secondly, anchors can leave a permanent scar on the reef if left in place for too long.
Don’t feed fish or stand on the reef. When people feed fish directly from their hands or drop food into the water around them, this encourages certain species of fish—like parrotfish—to eat away at more than just what they need for survival. Rather than eating algae off the coral itself, parrotfish will instead graze indiscriminately across multiple colonies within a given area of the ocean floor.
Ensure That Marine Protected Areas Are Effectively Managed
The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2021) finds in its 6th Assessment Report that global ocean surface temperatures have increased by about 1°C since the beginning of the industrial era. Similarly, it has been claimed that the frequency of maritime heatwaves (high confidence) has grown, as has their severity and duration (medium confidence) during the 1980s.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are the best way to ensure that coral reef systems and their services can be maintained.
However, MPAs are only effective when they are effectively managed. Effective management of marine protected areas involves:
Setting up a clear governance framework. This includes identifying who is responsible for managing the MPA, setting out its boundaries, and creating rules about what activities can be carried out within it or near it.
Ensuring there is adequate funding so managers can implement plans effectively. This may require seeking outside assistance from NGOs or government agencies if necessary since many countries lack sufficient funds to manage all their existing MPAs effectively without additional support from donors.
Everyone Can Do Something
Everyone can do something to help save the world’s coral reefs. Whether you are a student, a professional, or an individual with time to spare, there are many ways you can help.
- Talk to your friends and family about the problem. The more people who know about it, the better.
- Donate money to help with research on these issues. While much is still unknown about how coral reefs work, scientists are constantly trying to learn more about them so that we can develop better solutions.
- Donate money for restoration efforts on these problems by giving directly or through reputable organizations.
- Donate time volunteering at one of these organizations so that they have enough manpower needed for their important work.
Although there are many things we can do to save the world’s coral reefs, one of the most important is educating people about what they can do to prevent further damage to these amazing ecosystems. By spreading awareness and encouraging others to get involved in protecting these special places, we can help ensure that our oceans will be around for future generations.