Note: Hey guys! This is an essay I wrote for English class back in 2020, I was rereading it this afternoon and just thought it was very well written and provided a ton of information so Im publishing it to the Blue Moon Swim website as an article! I hope you all love it:)
Coral reefs play an important role in day-to-day lives in and out of the water. Reefs only account for a small percentage of the ocean floor, but they benefit everyone and everything in more ways you could imagine. I chose to talk about this topic in my essay because these beautiful, living creatures are dying at an alarming rate and not many people are aware of it, I hope I can spread at least a little awareness. We need to step in and take more action than what is already being taken right now before it’s too late.
Millions of sea creatures depend on these reefs for a home, food, and protection. For us humans, they practically help us, along with land animals, in those same areas as well. One of the huge factors is that coral reefs protect us from climate change. “They act as if they are barriers, blocking us from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis and typhoons. The reefs have even provided compounds now being used to cure diseases that have never been “curable” before, such as cancer, along with some basic medicines…” (“Why Care About Coral Reefs?”)
These coral reefs also provide us food such as a wide variety of fish, clams, octopus, lobster, crab, and other creatures that may live in or near the reefs. Without the reefs, we would no longer have one of our main food sources. But not only that, many fishermen would lose money, and eventually a lot of citizens of Hawai’i, and other coastline areas, would be out of their jobs.
Coral reefs have an economic effect on us as well, especially here in Hawai’i. Think about it, what are some of the main things people do here or anywhere tropical on vacation? Snorkel along the coastline and book snorkel trips (which could be another field of work people would lose their jobs in if we did not have our reefs). I can just tell by going surfing almost every day for 9 years here in Maui, our reefs out here are damaged badly. I used to see way more color beneath me than I see now. We went from so many vibrant colors in our reefs to dullness all around.
Coral dies through a process called coral bleaching. The coral bleaching process has 3 stages: healthy coral, stressed coral, and finally bleached, or dead coral. When the coral is healthy, the symbiotic relationship it has with algae (called zooxanthellae, which lives in the coral tissue) gives them their vibrant colors and is their primary food source. When the coral is stressed, the algae leaves the corals tissue. This can be caused by many things. Finally, when the coral becomes fully bleached, the algae is completely gone, leaving the coral white or very pale, making it more subjectable to disease.
“What causes this tragic death of our coral reefs?” you may ask. Well, the simple answer is us. There are many things that humans don’t do to contribute to saving or even maintaining our coral reefs. Sure, you can donate to the Coral Reef Restoration Foundation and have these marine biologists plant new coral for you, but what are you psychically doing yourself to help?
One thing you may be doing wrong is using non-reef safe sunscreen and tanning oils. Recently, the state of Hawai’i has banned only a few harmful ingredients to use in a formula. It is important to be aware of all of these ingredients and be sure to carefully read through the ingredient list on the bottle of sunscreen or tanning oil before buying it. The harmful chemical list includes Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene…” (“Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs”). But to narrow it down to simpler words, my mom, who is educated on the topic since her shop only sells reef safe products, just always told me to never buy these products if they have any other active ingredient other than zinc or zinc oxide. “Not only does this list of chemicals harm our coral reefs, they directly harm fish, mussels, dolphins, green algae, and sea urchins!” (“Skincare Chemicals And Coral Reefs”) Make the switch as soon as possible to benefit the earth’s health and yours as well.
Let's talk about land-based pollution that is taking part in this situation. We all know of the oil spills that have caused horrible damage to our lovely reefs. But what else is causing this? Agriculture (surprised? I was too), stormwater runoff, deforestation, road construction, coastal development and failed septic systems are all factors. You’d think that by hearing this, there would be absolutely nothing you could do to help. That’s not entirely true. You could help by not heavily fertilizing your plants and only giving them as much as they need; pick up after your pets when they use the bathroom outside; properly dispose of chemicals such as paint, oil, antifreeze, household cleaning products, ect. instead of dumping them in storm drains or street gutters and being sure to clean up any outside spills of these products as well; wash your car on your lawn and don't put any soap into the ocean in any way shape or form; dispose of your lawn clippings in a compost pile; get septic inspections and pumpouts up to date, every 3-5 years; and use rain gardens or rain barrels to harvest the rooftop rain (it also benefits your lawn)!
Another thing that people, mainly tourists, don't realize is that coral reefs are not a place to walk or step. Yes, they are sharp, and that is the primary reason why people buy water shoes. But, just because you have water shoes does not mean you should be able to walk freely on the reefs, you should buy water shoes for the sole purpose of protection if you accidentally touch one. Walking over the reefs is the same as walking through a garden with beautiful flowers already bloomed. You're killing these living things without a care in the world.
If you really want to go above and beyond, you could volunteer with one of the many programs and organizations dedicated to restoring coral reefs and educating others about them. You could also even donate to certain organizations that fund planting coral reefs. For over a year my jewelry business donated $1 of each product sold to restoring coral reefs! It makes me feel really good to know that I am contributing in all these different ways to save our reefs.
My mom’s business partner owns these “toys” called water scooters and she does guided tours on them through some of the beaches with large areas of alive coral on the island. On these tours she teaches her customers about the same things I have talked about in this essay but the difference is they get to see everything before their eyes! Kind of cool right?
Unfortunately, a lot of us do not have the time or the money to donate or learn about our ocean in depth. Don’t worry though, I just provided about 10 simple, yet effective ways you could contribute to saving our reefs in just 4 pages. Please do all you can to reverse the damage us humans have caused to our beautiful home and creatures of the sea. Corals are living things, and they are dying fast. We can change that, one step at a time!
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What Is Coral Bleaching? 15 Mar. 2010, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html.
“Why Care About Reefs?” Coral Reef Alliance, coral.org/coral-reefs-101/why-care-about-reefs/.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. How Does Pollution Threaten Coral Reefs?, 3 Mar. 2015, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral-pollution.html.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Sunscreen Chemicals and Coral Reefs.” Skincare Chemicals and Marine Life, 1 Nov. 2018, oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/sunscreen-corals.html.