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Maui Coral Reefs: 7 Ways to Help

Maui coral reef in clear water at the Airport Beach dive site.

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

There are various predictions for when we will see the final collapse of coral reefs worldwide. National Geographic predicts the year 2100 will see the majority of coral reefs collapse. Furthermore, it warns this demise could happen earlier if carbon emissions do not get massively reduced in the short-term. 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 remains of these rainforests of the sea.

Corals Need You

For the sake of scope, we would like to focus on the current state of Maui coral reefs. We will highlight conservation efforts for the coral 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. Tiny coral polyps are the base organisms of an entire coral reef system. Thus, the Hawaiians have always known how vital corals are to the health of life on the planet.

Today, Hawaiian coral reefs are subject to a variety of stressors.

Maui coral reefs, in particular, are declining due to a multitude of significant events: bleaching from rising ocean temperatures, sedimentation from land and coastline development, algae overgrowth from agricultural and waste runoff, overfishing, and massive tourism. The Department of Land and Natural Resources estimates that Maui lost a quarter of its coral reefs between 1999 and 2006.

Popular Maui diving sites such as Airport Beach in Kaanapali saw a 33% decrease in coral cover from 1995-2012. The famous Honolua Bay in West Maui dropped a jarring 76 percent between 1995 and 2012.

Maalaea Bay in central Maui was the first example of a total coral reef collapse. In just a few decades, the bay transformed from a healthy, diverse coral reef ecosystem, to a degraded underwater desert. Fast forward ten years, and now we are witnessing more coral reef decline. With a growing island population, you have to wonder what it will take to save this valuable resource. In 2002, the value of Hawaiian coastal reefs got estimated at almost $10 billion, with an average annual total of $364 million (Cesar and Beukering, 2004). This out-dated amount is undoubtedly much higher now, particularly on Maui!

Almost 85 percent of this annual $364 million gets attributed to tourism. But when the reefs go away, so will all fishing and surfing activities. The loss of revenue on this scale will be catastrophic for the Maui economy, not to mention the permanent damage it will do to the best Maui surf spots.

Conservation Efforts in Hawaii

The prognosis for Hawaii and the rest of the world seems bleak; however, people are fighting against the human impact on the marine environment.

  • After the coral bleaching events of 2014 and 2015, four conservation agencies in Hawaii and the mainland 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 parrotfish, we can combat algae overgrowth. Herbivores consume algae and keep it clean from excessive growth. Too many algae inhibit 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 the ongoing research of critical marine species in the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Maui County Council is considering a bill that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone. According to the Hawaiian Department of Health, compelling studies by local and national coral experts have shown potential increased damage to corals, as well as a higher susceptibility to bleaching, when elevated levels of this chemical exist in the environment. (see article)
  • A long-time business owner of Snorkel Bobs on Maui, Robert Wintner, formed a political action committee known as REEFPAC. This SuperPAC works to replace corruption and weakness in the Reef State Policy management. It is also pushing to end the removal of fish from Hawaiian waters for the aquarium trade.
  • Banyan Tree Divers tries to make its guests aware of the daily human impact on delicate Maui coral reefs. We host land and underwater cleanups that remove hundreds of pounds of debris from our local ocean.
  • Our Maui dive shop advocates the use of reef safe sunscreen (free of Oxybenzone) so as not to poison our inshore 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?

Maui scuba divers volunteer to clean up local coral reefs.

As a terrestrial species, it is easy for us humans to disconnect from the ocean environment and forget how necessary it is to our existence on this planet. But you do not have to live near the ocean to protect it! If the collapse of coral reefs scares you, here is how you, as an individual, can help:

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

An excellent 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 am 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 Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson.

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

Involvement in your local community is a no brainer!

4. If you 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, 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, snorkelers, 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.

ReefQuestFounded by 18-year-old Dylan Vecchione, ReefQuest is a nonprofit project dedicated to showing kids how they can become marine environmental stewards with sufficient education and tools to do so. ReefQuest truly fosters marine ecological stewardship through citizen science.

Final Thought

Banyan Tree Divers exists because Maui has had so much 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