It’s easy to be overwhelmed by large-scale environmental issues such as global warming and ocean acidification. However, there are ways in which you and the involvement of your local community can have a positive impact on this Earth and help to preserve precious coral reef systems.
Conserving coral reefs and our ocean environments is not only about maintaining biodiversity; it’s also about preserving the economic, health, and food benefits they provide. Global threats such as climate change largely influence coral bleaching and in turn, healthy fish communities. However, it is the combined pressure of unregulated fishing locally and global influences that cause coral communities and fish populations to crash, which affects the economies of dozens of countries.
Coral reefs, while enjoyed by people for recreation and wonder, go largely unappreciated for the economic support that provide many countries. For example, Belize’s coral reefs contribute 10-15% of the nations GDP mainly through fisheries and tourism. In addition, coral reefs are instrumental in bolstering coastlines, ports and buildings against tropical storms – a huge cost preventive benefit.
Think of coral reefs as the foundation for the entire ocean ecosystems. When degradation occurs at the core of an ecosystem, cascading ramifications are felt up through the food chain. Fisheries and tourism are both affected.
According to the recently released “Reefs at Risk Revisited” report, more than 75% of reefs around the world are under immediate threat from either direct or indirect human impacts and their consequences, including bleaching. These threats include overfishing and destructive fishing methods, watershed-based or marine-based pollution and coastal development, as well as warming and acidifying waters.
While large-scale environments issues such as climate change need to be addressed on globally, each of us, to a large extent, can help mitigate and eliminate the local pressures on coral reefs and marine environments. Some scientists believe that reducing local pressures on reefs may help buy reefs time to recover from global pressures.
Here are the top ten ways to save coral reefs by relieving local threats as recommended by Reefs at Risk Revisted:
1. Marine Protected Areas. Existing MPAs must be sufficiently finance and adequately enforced. Donating money to an exiting MPA or volunteering as a park ranger are options. New no-take MPAs must be created to reduce fishing pressure on coral reefs. These “fish banks” work to increase the yield of fish outside the reserve making this a win-win situation for both fisherman and conservationists. Petition your government to protect your local reefs.
2. No Destructive Fishing. Dynamite and cyanide fishing practices must be stopped. Fines could be put in place for offenders and better patrol of reef areas enacted.
3. Coastal Building Regulations. Better enforcement of regulations for coastal development need to be put in place. Buildings need to be setback from coastlines and the mangroves and seagrass beds left in place. In addition, run-off must be controlled and sewage properly treated. Be proactive in your local area and attend meetings hearing proposals for new coastal buildings. Scientific experiments on coastlines testing the water for the presence of untreated sewage and chemicals would be beneficial in linking contaminates back to their source to correct the run-off problem.
4. Mitigate Erosion. Prevent erosion from inland farms, and deforestation along rivers that lead to coasts where reefs grow. Make your voice heard to keep trees intact along water shores and urge farms to put soil erosion practices in place.
5. Reduce Pollution. Urge that the marine-based pollution from ships and offshore oil operations be reduced.
6. Protect Reefs from Ships. Raise awareness for the need to have shipping lanes routed away from coral reefs as well as prohibit ships from anchoring in or near reefs.
7. Learn and Educate. Read, watch and listen to everything you can about marine conservation and coral reefs and share what you learn with others. The more you learn, the more informed actions you can take to protect our oceans & reefs.
8. Support “Green” Business. Businesses that are eco-friendly are also reef-friendly. Only use your money to support businesses that are dedicated to sustainable practices. A good way to find such establishments is via the National Green Pages. Also, if you own stock in a company, you can use your proxy ballot to push big businesses to “go green” and stop destructive environmental practices.
9. Consume Sustainable Seafood. Practice mindful eating and don’t consume overfished Bluefin Tuna, Atlantic Cod, Blue Marlin, Chilean Seabass, Farmed Salmon, Snapper or Grouper (to name a few). Seafood Watch’s pocket guides and online database are useful tools for determining whether your seafood is sustainable or not. If you are at a restaurant that serves these fish, fill out a comment card or talk with the chef to voice your opinion about their unsustainable seafood menu choices.
10. Volunteer on Vacation. If you don’t live near a coral reef, then go on vacation to visit one and volunteer at the local marine park. There are many organizations, such as REEF, Blue Ventures and Oceans Watch, that you travel with to volunteer your diving skills and do coral surveys and ocean clean-ups.
Many of the above steps require you to petition the government. You have a voice and more power than you think. You can demand better reef protection. Through these and related actions, countries just might be able to rescue the reefs, and the economies, currently at risk.
Coral reefs are fundamentally resilient, known for their ability to recover from deleterious effects of an isolated treat or disease. However, compound local threats with climate change and reefs resiliency might be exhausted. This ecological crisis is also an economic one. Nations who rely on industries such as tourism, real estate, insurance and fisheries, will be facing challenging times as their economic pillars collapse with the disappearance of coral reefs.
Reduction of green house gases must occur globally and be enacted collectively around the world, but each of us has the power to influence the preservation of coral reefs by eliminating local threats. These ten action items are effective when enacted collectively. Your actions and the actions of your local community can make a difference every day.
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Christine Beggs is the founder of Project Blue Hope, a site dedicated to spreading her wish for a “Future of Blue.” Currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Marine Conservation, Christine is passionate about communicating ocean sciences.
Burke, L., Reytar, K., Spalding M., and Perry, A. 2011. Reefs at Risk Revisited. World Resources Institute. 1-112.