The importance of coral reefs to healthy marine ecosystems can’t be overstated but, in the last three years alone, over a fifth of our coral reefs have died. That means there is less than half the amount of coral in the ocean today than 40 years ago. While this figure is alarming, there are practical things we can do to help preserve this precious natural asset. By reducing fossil-fuel consumption, keeping chemicals out of the ocean and by switching to sustainable materials like bamboo, we can do our part to slow global warming and help coral reefs survive.
Threats to Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are made up of tiny animals called polyps. Polyps create coral reefs which support entire marine ecosystems. As polyps die, the marine life they support dies with them. Further, coral reef deaths also affect the economy, as reef tourism is a $375 billion industry.
Coral reefs are dying at a record rate due to the warming of the oceans, chemicals in the water and the increase of plastic garbage in the sea. There are many types of pollution that contribute to coral reef deaths, but there are many ways in which you can help to preserve our reefs by making very small changes to your everyday life.
Ditch The Plastics
One of the most impactful ways in which you can help is to get rid of all the plastics in your life. For every 2 lbs of plastic produced, about 13 lbs of CO2 is released. Plastics release the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene when they are exposed to sunlight and begin to degrade. Global warming results in warmer oceans and this is one of the major causes of coral reef degradation. Plastics leach toxic chemicals into the water which can cause problems. They block out the light which is necessary for polyps to thrive and they collect in reefs where they cause bacteria to grow. Instead of opting for plastics, switch to a more sustainable option like bamboo.
Plastic straws may not seem like they could have a huge impact on the environment because they are so tiny. That is, until you realize we use 500 million straws every day in the US alone! At this rate, there will be more items of plastic in the ocean by 2050 than there are fish.
Bamboo and paper straws are a better option if you must use a straw. Implement a plastic straw ban in your home and ask your local restaurants and fast food outlets to offer sustainable straw options.
Switch Your Sunscreen
Plastics aren’t the only things leaching chemicals into the ocean … you are! Sunscreens (even in very low concentrations) block out the UV light and cause coral bleaching. Sunscreens are so harmful that Hawaii has passed legislation to outlaw ones that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. There are organic, reef safe sunscreen options that will help beach goers to stay safe in the sun without harming our oceans. When next you purchase sunscreen, check that the brand you choose it is friendly to ocean life.
If we are going to help save our coral reefs, we need to take drastic action. The loss of reefs will have a huge impact on marine life and is an alarming preview of the effects of climate change on our planet. “If you think of corals as canaries [in a coal mine], they’re chirping really loudly right now,” said Jennifer Koss, Coral Reef Conservation Program director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The ones that are still alive, that is.”
Nikki Fotheringham is an environmental journalist and campfire cooking author. She is the editor of Greenmoxie.com where she shares green-living tips and helps people to live a more sustainable life.