5 Tips to Be a Reef-safe Traveler
It’s not a secret anymore - the world’s coral reefs are in a lot of trouble! Around the world, the reefs are under a serious threat from climate change, overfishing, and marine pollution. Recent studies show that these extraordinary ecosystems would be depleted completely by the year 2050 if we don’t take any drastic action soon. This prognosis is quite grim, therefore, it is important that each one of us does our part. Even if you are a tourist, you can play a role to save the reefs. All you have to do is change your behavior and make some informed choices. Here are some tips that will help you make sure that the coral reefs continue to thrive. Take a look.
Reduce Your Plastic Use
The world’s coral reefs are responsible for one-fourth of all marine species and approximately a million people around the world. One of the main reasons that these reefs are slowly depleting is the huge amount of plastic waste getting dumped into the oceans. Plastic is impossible to break down completely, rather it changes form into microplastics (smaller pieces). Moreover, the chemicals that attach onto these plastic fragments are extremely toxic to marine species that ingest them. Today, an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic is already dumped into our oceans. Therefore, as a traveler, it is imperative that you reduce your plastic usage. Avoid single-use items such as plastic bottles, bags, and straws. Instead, use packaging made from biodegradable materials such as wood and paper.
Look, but Don’t Disturb
Coral reefs are quite delicate. These natural structures comprise millions of tiny marine species called polyps. While scuba diving, therefore, it is better to observe neutral buoyancy and be aware of your flippers during snorkeling and diving expeditions. Remember, by stirring up sediment with your flippers, you can end up smothering the corals. Even if you touch them, you can either cause visible harm to the polyps or transfer bacteria and oils from your skin to them, both of which are enough to kill these fragile invertebrates.
Opt for sustainable seafood
You can help save the coral reefs, even by making more informed decisions. Whether it’s choosing biodegradable packaging or the type of seafood you consume can have significant effects on the coral health. Approximately, a third of all saltwater fish species live on and around coral reefs and affect the ecosystem. Therefore, if their number reduces because of overfishing or other human activities, it can cause serious after effects on the coral health. For example, overfishing species such as surgeonfish and parrotfish causes an unchecked growth of algae, which in turn, results in reducing the coral reef ecosystems from multicolor seascapes to expanses of rubble and seaweed. Therefore, it is better to stay clear of restaurants offering out-of-season seafood.
Use reef-safe sunscreen
A study published in 2015 concluded that chemicals from sunscreen were detrimental to the coral reefs around the US Virgin Islands. Out of these chemicals, oxybenzone (it can damage coral DNA and render them sterile) and other UV-absorbing chemicals (methoxycinnamate) were the worst offenders. These compounds can also lower the surrounding water temperature that exposes corals to prolonged heat stress. Some of the ingredients in ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ sunscreens can also be toxic. Eucalyptus and lavender, for example, have usage in insect repellents, which suggests that they might be harmful to invertebrates. Therefore, you can avoid using any sunscreen brands that incorporate such ingredients and opt for more reef-safe products.
Become a citizen scientist
There a number of national parks, conservation foundations, and eco-friendly hotels around the world that conduct citizen scientist programs. These programs allow frequent travelers to contribute to protecting the coral reefs worldwide. For example, in Australia, there are scientists who monitor the Great Barrier Reef – a vast expanse of vibrant coral ecosystems covering an area of 348,000 square kilometers. The team also relies on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and their Reef app for coral health data. The app allows locals and tourists to upload pictures and recordings of any events of coral bleaching, stranded wildlife, and other occurrences that can help conserve the precious ecosystems.
(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)