Like many natural wonders that have caught the attention of global tourism, coral reefs could be suffering from too much interest. As well meaning tourists and water-sports enthusiasts, we descend in our thousands if not millions on and under the world’s tropical and coastal waters. Unfortunately, the damage we leave behind is leaving it’s mark. Marine life, and the sea on which we depend, surf, swim and dive in, is under threat from pollution, tourism, over-fishing and other damaging activities.

Coral and coral reefs are extremely sensitive, just walking on a reef can damage fragile coral that will take years to regrow. Many coral reefs are constantly being damaged by cruiseship anchors, legal and illegal spillage, sewage, tourists breaking off chunks of coral as a keep sake (however small) and commercial harvesting for sale to tourists and vacation divers like us. It is not unusual for tourist resorts to empty their sewage directly into the water surrounding coral reefs and thereby contributing to coral reef degradation.

With the help of small polyp like creatures and microscopic algae it takes nature thousands of years to create a coral reef. We can carelessly destroy it in the blink of an eye.  Coral reefs could be called the rainforests of the ocean, they are reservoirs of biodiversity. They are a rich natural resource – a vital ecosystem. There are some 800 species of coral which, in the form of reefs, are home to an estimated 4,000 species of fish. In the last couple of decades some 35 million acres of Coral Reefs have been destroyed.

Hitting the bottom
A recent survey of the Gulf of Gascony found that in the survey area, to a depth of 200m, the ocean floor was awash with litter and man made junk. The survey idenitfied approx 50 million individual items of rubbish, a large percentage of which was plastic material (nonbiodegradable). This debris is potentailly lethal for marine life and birds caught up in it.

The presence of litter such as plastic bottles, crisp wrappers and sewage related debris on beaches and at sea is unattractive, has health and economic impacts on local communities, and is potentially harmful to marine wildlife through entanglement and ingestion.’ [Marine conservation society]

  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food
  • Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade: they break down into smaller and smaller toxic bits, contaminating soil and waterways, and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest the waste
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation

What can we do
Today 70% of the coral is threatened either by humans directly or through the effects of pollution and climate change. It is unlikely that this disregard for our coral reefs will stop any time soon. Next time you’re on vacation just think how you can make a difference.

  • Say no to coral souvenirs, coral curios and jewelery
  • Watch where you put your feet, flippers can cause havok to a fragile reef
  • Watch where you drop anchor
  • Don’t drop your rubbish. Take it home with you. Floating litter can cover reefs, blocking off sunlight that polyps need to survive.