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Coral Reefs Need Help: 7 Ways to Get Involved

coral reefs

It is no secret that coral reefs are vanishing worldwide at an alarming rate. When I say “worldwide” it almost sounds as if there is an abundance of this ecosystem, when in reality, coral reefs only cover .015% of the ocean floor. That is roughly the size of France. Despite claiming this minuscule swath of sea floor, coral reefs support 25% of all marine life in the ocean. Imagine almost 2 billion people relying on the land mass of France for survival. Not only do coral reefs provide important sources of food, they also protect coastlines from catastrophic weather events and are a critical economic resource.

There are various predictions as to when we will see the final collapse of coral reefs. A recent article from National Geographic predicts the year 2100, with a majority of coral reefs collapsing before then, unless we significantly reduce our carbon emissions. With the rising ocean temperatures due to climate change, sea level rise, and the snail pace of geopolitics, it is up to dedicated individuals to preserve what is left of these “rainforests of the sea.”

Maui Coral Reefs in Decline:

For the sake of scope, I would like to focus on the current state of Maui coral reefs. I will highlight conservation efforts for the island’s reef ecosystem, and what we can do as individuals to combat the rapid changes our reefs are facing. According to ancient Hawaiian lore, the history of all life evolved from the coral polyp or Ko’a. Coral polyps are the base organisms of an entire reef system. Thus, the Hawaiians have always known how important corals are to the health of life on the planet.

Today, Hawaii’s reefs are subject to a variety of stressors.

Maui’s coral reefs in particular are subject to decline due to bleaching from rising ocean temperatures, sedimentation from land and coastline development, algae overgrowth from agricultural and waste runoff, overfishing, and heavy tourism. The Department of Land and Natural Resources estimated that between 1999 and 2006 a quarter of Maui coral reefs were lost.

Popular dive sites such as Airport Beach in Kaanapali saw a 33% decrease in coral cover from 1995-2012.

Honolua Bay’s coverage dropped a jarring 76% between 1995-2012.

Ma’alaea Bay was Maui’s first example of system collapse. In just a few decades the bay transformed from a healthy, diverse coral reef ecosystem, to a degraded underwater desert.

Fast forward 10 years, we are all witnessing more coral decline with a growing island population. You have to wonder what it will take to save this valuable resource . In 2002, the value of Hawaii’s coastal reefs was estimated at almost $10 billion, with an average annual value of $364 million (Cesar and Van Beukering, 2004). Surely this figure is much higher now, particularly on Maui!

Almost 85% of this annual value is attributed to tourism. When the reefs go away, so will the fish. The loss of revenue would be catastrophic for the Maui economy. Not to mention the damage it will do to West Maui surf spots.

Conservation Efforts in Hawaii:

While the prognosis for Hawaii and the rest of the world seems bleak, many people are coming together to fight the human impact on the marine environment.

  • After the coral bleaching event of 2014/2015 four conservation agencies, both Hawaii and mainland-based, created a network of permanent, no-take, marine-protected areas in Hawaii. They also helped fund herbivore fishery management. By limiting the number of herbivores removed from shallow reefs, such as parrot fish, we can combat algae overgrowth. Herbivores consume algae and keep it clean from overgrowth. Too much algae inhibits coral reproduction, especially after bleaching events.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently awarded over $1.3 million to the Joint Institute for Marine Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) at the University of Hawaii, Manoa to support ongoing research of key marine species in the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Maui County Counsel is considering a bill that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone. According to Hawaii’s Department of Health, compelling studies by local and national coral experts have shown potential increased damage to corals, as well as higher susceptibility to bleaching, when elevated levels of this chemical exist in the environment. (see article)
  • A long time business owner of Snorkel Bob’s on Maui, Robert Wintner, has formed his own political action committee (SuperPAC) known as REEFPAC. This SuperPAC  is dedicated to replacing corruption and weakness in the Reef State Policy management. It is also pushing to end the removal of fish from Hawaii’s waters for the aquarium trade.
  • Banyan Tree Divers is dedicated to educating guests about human impact on our delicate reefs. Diving in the ocean everyday, we see the degradation of coral reefs first-hand. We host land and underwater cleanups, removing hundreds of pounds of debris from the ocean.
  • BTD advocates the use of reef safe sunscreen (free of oxybenzone) so as not to poison our shallow waters. We donate money and time to various reef conservation organizations such as Coral Reef Alliance, Malama Maui Nui, Sea Shepherd, and The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

What Can You Do for Coral Reefs?

As a land based species, it is easy for us humans to disconnect ourselves from the ocean environment and forget how necessary it is to our existence on this planet. You don’t have to live near the ocean to protect it!

Does the collapse of coral reefs scare you to bits? Here is how you as an individual can help:

1. Educate yourself and others about the effects of climate change on coral reefs.

A good visual way to do this is by watching the powerful Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, downloading their social media toolbox and sharing it with everyone you can.

2. Limit your consumption of PLASTIC, FISH, and MEAT.

I’m not going to get into the why’s in this blog, but a GREAT source of more information on this topic can be found on the “Eat for the Planet” podcast in an interview with Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd.

3. Host beach cleanups if you live by the ocean!

This is a no brainer.

4. If you really care about Ocean Conservation, donate to foundations dedicated to research, action and legislation.

Follow them on social media. Do some research on what they stand for. Unfortunately, some promote ocean conservation, yet have seafood recipes on their websites.

Some Reputable Foundations Include:

Surfrider Foundation

Coral Reef Alliance

Mission Blue

Project AWARE Foundation

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

5. Vote with your money

If you don’t want to donate your hard earned dough to science and conservation efforts then at least buy products that support sustainable oceans.

Examples Include:

Waterlust – “A purpose-driven brand that creates media inspiration and sustainable products to support marine science research and education.”

Manakai Swimwear – Eco-conscious swimwear made from repurposed nylon and discarded fishing nets.

Norton Point – Started in 2016, this eyewear company is the world’s first line of sunglasses made from post-consumer ocean plastics. They remove one pound of ocean debris for every product purchased and also donate proceeds from sales to the Ocean Conservancy.

Raw Love Sunscreen – Maui made, reef friendly, 100% natural, 35 SPF. Apply often!

6. Stay up to date on legislation surrounding ocean conservation.

Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) along with three House Representatives introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Elimination Act of 2017. Call your local Senator and Representatives in favor of passing this legislation.

7. Volunteer your time by participating in citizen science.

Citizen science is rapidly gaining traction as a method for everyday people like you and me to contribute to marine scientific research. Scuba divers, snorkelers and water enthusiasts are encouraged to record and report unhealthy coral sitings such as bleaching, algae overgrowth and disease.

Citizen Science Projects Include:

Earthdive – “earthdive is a revolutionary concept in citizen science and a global research project for millions of recreational scuba divers, snorkellers and others who can help preserve the health and diversity of our oceans.”

Project AWARE – “Focusing on the critical issues of Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, Project AWARE empowers thousands of divers in more than 182 countries to work together for a clean, healthy and abundant ocean planet.”

ReefQuest – “Fostering marine environmental stewardship through citizen science.” Founded by 18 year old Dylan Vecchione, ReefQuest is a nonprofit project dedicated to showing kids how they can become marine environmental stewards with the sufficient education and tools to do so.

Final Thought:

Banyan Tree Divers Scuba exists because of Maui’s underwater beauty. The coral reefs surrounding Maui are our home away from home, and we are desperate to protect them. If you found any of this information enlightening or helpful please SHARE. Talk about protection with your friends, call your mom to tell her how much you want to save coral reefs, be creative, and put your passion into action!

“One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” – JFK

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