Coral reef is known as the rainforest of the sea in that they only cover a minute area of our oceans but are teeming with life. They’re also pretty handy to have around; absorbing around one-third of our CO2 and producing around half of the Oxygen on Earth. Coral is an animal but also farms tiny algae in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Now, there are a few important things you can do to help out or coral reefs and if enough people do these then they may stand a chance of outliving us humans.
Remember that coral is an animal and closely related to jellyfish so for both you and the coral, give it a wide berth. Coral, despite many being around for hundreds of years is pretty fragile. It may look like a big rock but a small knock with your fins can undo decades of growth, bare in mind that coral grows at around 2cm a year that’s slower than your fingernails.
Even stirring up debris can cause havoc to coral. Sediment can bury coral and block sunlight starving the coral and killing it forever. Even oils from your skin can disturb mucus membranes leaving the coral open to attack. If you can’t swim out of a gap or crevice without flailing your fins around wildly or touching stuff then don’t swim into it in the first place.
While a single water bottle in the ocean may seem easy to pick up, that same plastic bottle will move and get beaten up over time and be broken up into smaller and smaller pieces until they become microplastics that make their way into smaller crevices and block them.
Chemicals in some plastics can leach out into water killing small animals where pH and water composition are pretty important. Corals have been observed interacting with microplastics either in a cleaning manner, trying to get rid of it or a feeding manner but in around 80% of studied species, negative effects of health were reported when exposed to microplastics.
Coral Reefs tend to be found in sunny places, it’s how they stay warm and photosynthesise. The downside to this is that humans burn when exposed to intense sunlight so what do we do? We wear sunscreen to protect ourselves. Sunscreen either blocks or absorbs UV light but these minerals and chemicals in sunscreen on your skin wash off, that’s why you need to reapply them after a swim. Sure they get diluted a lot but an estimated 14 hundred tonnes of sunscreen is believed to be deposited in oceans every year, those minerals catalyse the production of Hydrogen Peroxide, which bleaches coral.
One key ingredient of sunblock is oxybenzone. Toxic to corals, algae, sea urchins, fish and mammals, a single drop of Oxybenzone in 4 million gallons of water is enough to endanger organisms and the smaller they are the worse it is. Either ditch the sunscreen for a rash vest, that’s why they have UPF ratings or switch to a friendlier reef-safe sunscreen like zinc-oxide or titanium-oxide. Try avoiding the following chemicals in sunblock: oxybenzone, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, benzyl paraben, Phenoxyethanol, octinoxate, octocrylene, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor & triclosan.
Seems simple but buying coral in jewellery and other decorations can encourage people to dive down and break off parts of the reef for commercial gain. Some corals can be farmed for marine fish tanks that do no damage to the natural reefs but be sure where any coral has come from before you buy it.
The only reason we’re not still beating rocks against the floor in a cave is education. The more we learn about a subject and teach others the better our civilisation will become. Educating the next generation is essential because they haven’t been corrupted by politics, the economy or anything else yet. Kids are information sponges and if we can teach them that we need to work to live around coral reefs then they’ll make a way for both humans and coral to thrive together.
If the next generation is sincerely taught to sacrifice their plastic straws for the benefit of the oceans then that will be ingrained for the first time in an entire generation so when they grow up they can do away with the archaic practices that we’ve grown up with and tolerated because we weren’t taught that it’s important. The current generation only seems to be interested in what they can squeeze out of the environment to enrich their lives, we need to go back to a stage where we live in harmony and that can only be done through education.