Corals are animals. They are not just random colorful rocks. They are living things that need to be protected, not only because they draw tourists to diving and snorkeling sites, helping local tourism thrive, but because they serve as homes to multitudes of marine species, with a number of them having symbiotic relationships.
Unfortunately, due to climate change and several other factors, the coral reefs around the world are dying at an alarming rate. The biggest proof of this is the Great Barrier Reef, which has been repeatedly reported to have lost an enormous portion of its coral cover over the years. Spanning 1,400 miles, more than half of it has suffered massive coral bleaching in 2016 and last year.
While it is impossible to turn back time and prevent climate change from happening to save our reefs, there are ways we can help in the conservation of corals.
At first glance, you would think that these little things cannot change anything. However, remember that when little actions are done collectively, we can create a huge impact, and maybe, just maybe, we can turn things around.
Do not touch and step on corals.
Whether you are snorkeling, scubadiving, or freediving, always remember not to let any part of your body, gear, or equipment come in contact with corals because this can cause great damage. Some people tend to get curious and use their hands, but that is what we should all be avoiding.
When humans touch corals just to find out what they feel like, it can lead to the death of an entire coral colony. Even the lightest touch can damage the polyps. And these are not even exaggerations.
The oils found on our skin can actually distress the sensitive mucous membranes responsible for protecting the corals from disease, leaving them vulnerable to harmful bacteria, and then eventually killing them.
As if touching corals isn’t damaging enough, some people even dare step on them. This is one of the things that really pisses me off when I see it. If the water is too shallow and your bouyancy is not that great (aka you can’t swim), please please wear a life vest!
On the other hand, some types of corals can also be quite dangerous to humans, such as fire corals, which leave a burning sting and sometimes can cause nausea and vomiting hours after contact. If not treated immediately, the swelling and blisters from the sting could remain on the skin for several days or weeks. So, look but don’t touch!
Support organizations that work on coral reef conservation and restoration.
The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non-profit marine conservation organization that dedicates their work to restore coral reefs back to a healthy state, not only in Florida, where they are based at, but globally as well. What they do is grow corals in offshore facilities and then plant them back into the ocean. And of course, they keep track and monitor the corals that they have planted in carefully selected sites in order to ensure that these are in best health conditions.
For more information on how you can support the cause (or join their team if you’re in Florida), please visit www.coralrestoration.org.
One of my favorite organizations, 4ocean, also collaborated with the Coral Restoration Foundation earlier this year, with a portion of the proceeds from the limited edition Coral Reef Bracelet going to the said foundation.
Be up-to-date with what other causes 4ocean supports each month by following them on on Instagram! This month, they have paired up with Project Aware, a shark conservation organization. 🙂
Report COTS sightings (or remove them, but only if you know how to!)
The crown-of-thorns starfish, aptly named because of the sharp spines covering its surface that resembles the crown of thorns mentioned in the bible, is a type of starfish that preys on hard corals and coral polyps. Believe it or not, it has played quite a big role in the loss of more than half the Great Barrier Reef’s coral cover in the last 30 years, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
The good news is that there is a cost-effective way to get rid of these pests. COTS can actually be killed using VINEGAR! In order to kill a crown-of-thorns starfish, a diver needs to inject the base of its arms with vinegar before removing it from its place. The COTS will die within 48 hours and then it will be ready to be retrieved from the ocean, away from the corals.
But why is there a need for the COTS to die first before you can remove it?
The direct killing of this starfish can agitate it, which would lead to the starfish spawning, causing even a bigger problem for the reef. Not to mention that COTS tend to have a high reproductive success rate, with the female starfish being able to spawn several millions of eggs in a single spawning season.
If you find COTS during your dives, but you are inexperienced in handling them, it is best that you report it to groups that are knowledgeable on removing these efficiently and effectively, without causing any more harm and further disruption in the marine ecosystem.
Report ghost net sightings.
Ghost nets are fishing nets that had been lost or abandoned by fishermen in the ocean. As they fall into the sea, drifted away by the current, these nets often get entangled in the reefs, causing damage to soft and hard corals alike, as well as other marine life. So, if you encounter ghost nets during your dives, make sure you report it to the appropriate people who can help remove these from the reef in the safest way possible. Sometimes, these nets can be too big and too heavy for a few divers to handle.
Watch this video to know more about the negative effects of ghost nets:
Wear reef-safe sunscreen.
One of the silent coral killers are sunscreens. Although these products protect us, humans, from the sun’s harmful UV rays, marine life become at risk every day, with people’s continual usage of products made with chemicals that are toxic to the reef.
So, what makes a sunscreen not safe for the corals, you ask?
If the sunscreen you are using contains ingredients like Oxybenzone or Benzophenone-3, Octinoxate or Ethylhyxyl Methoxycinnamate, Butylparaben, or 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor, and you swim in the sea with the product on your skin, then you are, sadly, contributing to coral reef damage.
Oxybezone, for example, is a common ingredient in sunscreens, especially with the spray-on variety. According to a study, this chemical contributes to coral bleaching, disrupting their reproduction and affecting the growth of young corals.
Did you know that even just a single drop of Oxybenzone can already pollute an area as big as six Olympic size pools combined? This means that even the seemingly harmless act of applying sunscreen with this particular component can actually cause great harm to the ocean. And the truth is, it is not only the corals that will be affected. As they are part of the marine ecosystem, other species will suffer in the long run too. So, imagine the damage we are doing to the ocean just because we want to protect our skin.
Hawaii has already banned sunscreen products linked to coral reef damage. On the 3rd of July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige reportedly signed a bill prohibiting the sale of non-prescribed sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Let’s hope that more places will follow, including the Philippines because, let’s face it, our tourism thrives because of our snorkeling and diving sites too.
But as we wait for a miracle that that’s actually going to happen, here are some local brands of must-have reef-safe sunscreen products:
2. MARAJAW SURF
3. WAWAIS PH
4. HUMAN NATURE
If there’s any more I should add to the list, let me know in the comments! 😉
Do not promote the trade of souvenirs made of dead corals.
Corals, as well as shells, are often being sold as souvenirs, in the form of accessories and home decors. While these do support the livelihood of some locals, who make these products to earn money in order to support their families, it could have grave consequences in the long run. The trade of dead corals and shells will only encourage people to remove these from marine ecosystems for the purpose of money making.
Dead corals are not that useless in the ocean either. Several marine species will still inhabit them, which is why corals should not be removed from the ocean regardless of these being dead or alive. Somehow, they still continue to play their role in the ecosystem even after they expire.
On the other hand, while picking up a dead coral that has washed up on the shore could seem like a harmless act, it is highly discouraged, and not only for the reason that you will be stopped at the airport for possessing these. When you pick up a piece of dead coral during your beach vacation and take it home, how would customs know if you simply picked it up on the beach or if you actually ripped it off the reef?
I have to admit, I do have a few dead corals that I picked up from the beach several years ago. Back then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought they were pretty and I wanted a remembrance. I didn’t know the possible consequences of my actions. But now that I do, I wanted to share this information with you, so you can avoid making the same mistakes I did. It’s good to learn something new every day!
Last but not the least…
If you have a Netflix subscription (if you don’t, it’s about time that you get one), I am encouraging you to watch one of my favorite documentaries of all time- Chasing Coral. It’s one of the most informative and compelling films about the ocean that I’ve seen so far, and I got very emotional watching it. I promise, it will be worth your time!
What other topics related to the ocean do you want to read about? Let me know! 🙂