Often referred to as “the rainforest of the sea,” coral reefs are a natural attraction for travelers, sending snorkelers and divers around the world to get an up-close look at these colorful communities. More scientifically speaking, coral reefs are an underwater ecosystem characterized by colonies of coral polyps (soft-bodied organisms related to sea anemones and jellyfish) stitched together by calcium carbonate—they also provide food and shelter for the marine life that call these biologically rich ecosystems home.
“Everything starts with coral. Without coral, there would be no marine life,” explains Roxane Boonstra, a recreational dive and volunteer coordinator from the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo. Since the 1970s, the 125-mile-long stretch of reefs that line the Florida Keys (the world’s third-largest barrier reef) has seen a 97 percent loss of the once-dominant staghorn and elkhorn coral. These corals have become some of the first to be included on the IUCN Red List of Enᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed Species, and are both now listed as “Critically Enᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed,” one step away from a listing of “ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ in the Wild.”
As vital ecosystems to our oceans, corals not only play a large role in protecting marine life but they help humans, too. These massive structures provide buffers for our shorelines and protect us against waves, storms, and ꜰʟᴏᴏᴅs. Due to the recent loss of coral reefs in the Keys, the absence of this natural barrier was believed to be a major contributor to the sᴇᴠᴇʀᴇ ꜰʟᴏᴏᴅing caused by Hurricane Irma back in 2017, from which more than 7.7 million homes and businesses were left in ʀᴜɪɴ without electricity.
Tʜʀᴇᴀᴛᴇɴed by an increasing range of impacts—including ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛɪᴏɴ, ɪɴᴠᴀsɪᴠᴇ sᴘᴇᴄɪᴇs, ᴅɪsᴇᴀsᴇ, unsustainable fishing practices, and global climate change—mass coral bleaching is becoming more frequent as ocean temperatures continue to rise. In response to these significant events, reef restoration programs in all corners of the earth have sprouted a new type of farming. Coral “farms” are the latest form of eco-tourism popping up in countries like Tahiti, Mauritius, Australia, and more. At the Coral Restoration Foundation, visitors can work side by side to help with the “out-planting” of corals from the nursery to the reef, or even snorkel above the nursery, through their dive program which has helped plant more than 66,000 corals back onto the Florida Reef Tract.
With these 10 easy tips, you can also help save our coral reefs.
Use only ecological or organic ғᴇʀᴛɪʟɪᴢᴇʀs in your gardens and on your lawns. Chemicals and ᴘᴇsᴛɪᴄɪᴅᴇs flow into the water system, ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛᴇ the ocean, and can travel on ocean currents at great distances, doing ʜᴀʀᴍ to coral reefs and other sea life.
Conserve water – the less water you use, the less runoff and ᴡᴀsᴛᴇwater will ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛᴇ our oceans.
Organize a beach clean-up. Plastic ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛᴇs ocean waters and ʜᴀʀᴍs coral reefs and other sea life.
Plant a Tree – you will reduce runoff into the oceans. You will also contribute to reversing the global warming of our planet and the rising temperatures of our oceans.
Talk to your family, friends and neighbors and tell them about coral reefs, the rainforest of the sea, and explain to them about the coral reef ᴄʀɪsɪs. Ask them to get involved and make a difference too!
Do not stand, touch or anchor your boat on the reef. When you visit a coral reef, practice reef safe diving and snorkeling.
Learn more about coral reefs, their remarkable biodiversity and the special role they play as messengers for the health of our oceans and our world.
Support and volunteer for organizations that work to protect coral reefs, oceans, rivers, lakes or other waters in your area. Clean water is important everywhere. All watersheds affect the oceans and eventually, the coral reefs.
Build ecological ᴡᴀsᴛᴇ recycling systems in your home, school or community. Every simple thing you do to help save coral reefs makes a difference!
Write to your government representatives and demand they take action to protect coral reefs, stop sᴇᴡᴀɢᴇ ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛion of our oceans, expand marine protected areas and take steps to reverse global warming.