Every year millions of tourists visit coral reef systems to enjoy the beauty of its vibrant colors, as well as the gorgeous marine life that call the reef home.
In recent years, many fragile coral reef ecosystems have become under threat due to bad practices in the tourism sector as well as climate change. Here's a few tips to help you protect the reef you visit on your trip, as well when you get back home.
Leave Nothing Behind
Leaving rubbish behind can lead to serious damage to the reef! From cigarette butts (that can take up to 12 years to breakdown!) to your finished trash, even anything biodegradable! Everything you drop into the ocean or on the reef contributes to the 8 million metric tons of plastic we throw in annually! This can smother the corals causing irreparable damage. When it can take between 5,000 and 10,000 years for a coral reef to fully grow, that’s not something you want on your mind. Only leave your bubbles behind.
Take Nothing Away
Whether it's a small piece of coral or a shell all the way to the global aquarium trade, removing parts of the reef ecosystem can cause great disruption to the survival of certain species.
Finding Nemo, the movie, gives us a great insight into the damage that can be done by removing fish from the reef. While the emotional aspect isn’t quite the same, the damage it can cause is. Only take away memories and photographs of everything you see.
Research Your Tour Company
Sometimes companies aren’t licensed to take tourists to the reef, and it's often for good reason. These companies may use bad practices like anchoring their boats to fragile coral or dumping sewage. Key things to look out for are evidence that the company's guides may be feeding the fish or pictures of guides touching coral.
When researching a tour company, if their website says they minimize waste and take their trash out when they leave—and better yet—that they promote projects to clean up the reef, it's a good sign you're on to booking a reef trip with a responsible company.
Look But Don’t Touch
Touching certain corals can be just as bad as removing them from the environment!
Touching can easily damage the coral or cause serious harm to yourself! Some, such as the fire coral, have developed ways to stop you (and other animals of course), so you may even get a nasty sting! This can be by accident too though, so be conscious that your swimming fins are an extension of you that can easily brush the rocks and reef below you.
If you see something going on that doesn’t look right, report it to your tour operator! We all want to enjoy the reef for many more years. Between climate change and a lack of education, protecting the reef for future generations is a tough battle.
Don’t feel silly either, there are a number of organisations who monitor these waters and are glad to hear your reports. The Great Barrier Reef, for example, spans over 2,300 km in length. That's a huge swath of space to monitor, so help from socially conscious tourists is appreciated.
Suit don’t Cream!
Sunscreen or suncream washes off in the water—even those which are advertised as water resistant—so a wet suit is better for swimming along the reef. The chemicals in the cream can cause irritation to the corals and wildlife, and sometimes even death!
Wet suits are available for rent from most tour operators, so don't worry if you it can't fit one in your already overstuffed suitcase. They also double up as stinger suits, which is great for protecting you from a few deadly species of jellyfish that roam the waters of certain reef areas. Some of these jellyfish are so small, you won’t see them without a highly trained eye, so it’s nice to know you’re extra safe!
Respect Local Guidelines
Each tour operator and nearby town will have their own guidelines they’d like you to follow when diving or snorkeling. Reef area are a natural treasure, and these guides know a lot about protecting it.
Things To Do From Home
It may sound all doom and gloom for reef ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s not over yet! You may question how helpful what you do from home can be to our oceans, right?
The plastic thrown in the trash instead of recycling ends in a landfill site and can easily reach river systems, which ultimately go to our ocean. It takes an estimated 450 years for plastic to decompose in the ocean. That's a long time for it to endanger our reefs! A simple solution is just to recycle plastics, which most of you probably already do.
You should also try and avoid using pesticides or buying foods produced with them. The chemicals in pesticides can be very harmful to the marine life! These chemicals infiltrate the rivers and streams that run alongside these farms that use pesticides, and they ultimately reach the ocean causing disastrous results!
Finally, the oceans are warming due to a large release of carbon emissions. Reducing our carbon footprint helps to combat the rising temperatures in our oceans. Only 2 degrees can mean the difference between life and death for our coral reefs; let's work together to keep these around for generations to come.
At age 19, Millie decided to ditch the heels and don the hiking boots to explore this planet we call Earth. While she will still be frequently found drinking a glass or two of champagne, it will be between adventures around the world. Now, three years later, she’s reached 37 countries and that number is climbing fast!