The Coral Reef Alliance

Healthy coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet. Nearly a billion people live near coral reefs, with many relying on reefs for food, coastal protection from storms and erosion, and income from fishing, recreation, and tourism*. At a global scale, coral reefs have enormous intrinsic value as the ocean's richest biodiversity hotspot. In addition, coral reef biodiversity is increasingly becoming a primary source for the biological compounds used to develop new medicines. Yet coral reefs also represent one of the most imperiled biomes on the planet. An estimated 60 percent of the world's reefs are under immediate and direct threat from local activi...
Feb 3, 2016

Cover Up for Coral Reefs

Coral reefs have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons: island construction projects that are burying reefs, El Niño causing coral bleaching, and the risk to corals from carbon pollution. So it was unwelcomed news when we learned in October about a new study, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, that shows a common ingredient in sunscreen, oxybenzone, is bad for corals.

Even at very low concentrations, the growth rate of baby corals exposed to oxybenzone slowed down and they became deformed. When the concentration was increased, baby corals bleached, which caused them to release their food-generating symbiotic algae.

Scientists are just starting to understand how chemicals like sunscreens can harm corals. The current study is an important step forward, but we expect to learn more about the effects of oxybenzone on corals in the years to come. We will also learn about how a myriad of chemicals are interacting to create a potentially toxic soup for corals. In the meantime, we know enough to take action. Oxybenzone is demonstrably bad for corals and we need to limit its concentration in coastal waters.

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Corals are as important to the reefs as trees are to the forest: they build the habitat for all of the other life that calls the reef home. But by knowing that this risk exists for corals, we view this as an opportunity to do something small to help: when you’re visiting coral reef areas, don’t lather up with sunscreen, instead cover up for corals.

Everyone can take one or more of these simple steps:

  • Wear a full body UV swimsuit
  • Cover up with long sleeve sun shirt
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Limit exposure to the sun’s rays (particularly during the middle of the day)

As an added benefit, covering up just might be good for you, too. In addition to harming corals and other animals, scientists have identified oxybenzone as an endocrine disruptor with estrogenic effects (acting similarly to estrogen in our bodies) by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) (Sunscreen Guide) and the International Chemical Secretariat (Substitute it Now! (SIN)).

When covering up is not an option, there may be some sunscreens that are less harmful to corals. In particular, research indicates that nonchemical, mineral-based sunscreens are best (such as top EWG ranked W.S. Badger Company, All Terrain, and Babo Botanicals sunscreens).

Corals face many stressors that put the entire reef ecosystem at risk. Finding solutions for corals is important for the many species that call the reef home. It’s also important to the millions of people around the world who rely on coral reefs to provide food, protect shorelines from damaging storms and sea level rise, and to create economic opportunities through tourism. The good news is that many places are already working to help keep corals healthy by maintaining thriving fish populations and reducing coastal water pollution. If we can reduce harmful sunscreens from the coastal environment, we can give corals a little more breathing room to adapt to a changing world.

Dec 17, 2015

A Thriving Lagoon

On the northern coast of Honduras, just a few miles west of Tela through lush tropical forests, sits Laguna de los Micos. The Laguna is a treasure trove of biodiversity, surrounded by mangroves and separated from the Caribbean Sea by only a few feet of sand. It’s one of the area’s most important coral reef habitats, and serves as a respite, home and nursery for hundreds of coral reef fish.

 

The Laguna has always been an important area for local communities, providing subsistence and livelihoods. But in recent years, the fishermen weren’t catching as much. Fish populations seemed to disappear.

Laguna de los Micos is part of the Parque Nacional Jeannette Kawas. The area is protected and has a management plan that includes fishing regulations. For example, boats cannot carry more than 600 meters of net, and the mesh size must be at least three inches. In some waterways, you can only fish with hook and line, and spear guns or dynamite are prohibited. The regulations are numerous—but there was never enough money or local participation to enforce them.

This year, CORAL and many of its local partners, helped create a patrol program for the lagoon. The Institutional Committee of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Tela*—a conglomeration of government organizations and local NGOs—provides the resources and manpower. CORAL provides the funding and training. A typical patrol may include a car from PROLANSATE, a boat from DIGEPESCA and field techniques from each organization.

It’s a true example of collaboration, and it works. Fishermen now report seeing mackerel over 30cm in length, and many regularly catch jacks that weigh more than 10 pounds. The fishermen support the patrols and are grateful to have them managed by a local committee. They say it keeps the process honest and transparent.

This collaboration is an exemplary model. It’s proof that great things happen when we work together. Conservation isn’t just about protecting the environment; it’s also about working alongside the communities that rely on that environment. And when governments, communities, and NGOs partner together, environments thrive.

*The Institutional Committee of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Tela comprises the Department of Fisheries, Department of Protected Areas, Municipality, Environmental Department of the Municipality, the Navy, PROLANSATE, AMATELA, and CORAL.

Nov 19, 2015

A Hopeful Future for Bali's Reefs

Coral reefs are a hot topic these days. They’re all over the news—coral bleaching, constructing islands on top of reefs, and sunscreen pollution. Even the Washington Post has been running a series of articles on coral reefs. I’ve worked with corals for more than 10 years and I can’t remember a time when they’ve ever been so mainstream and popular. But here’s the problem: it’s all doom and gloom. All of the news that’s coming out is bad news. Where’s the optimism? Where’s the hope? Where are the success stories?

That’s one of the things I love about CORAL. We know we CAN save coral reefs, and with the right amount of support, we WILL. And that’s why I enjoyed my most recent trip to Bali, Indonesia.

Together, we CAN and we WILL save coral reefs.

Together, we CAN and we WILL save coral reefs.

I strategically aligned my trip so I could attend the first-ever Buleleng Bali Dive Festival, which was held in Pemuteran. Some of you may remember hearing about it at our 2014 Gala, when the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries and Affairs announced the festival for the first time. The festival was a huge success—complete with a parade, traditional ceremony, educational talks, and of course, unforgettable diving.

But, what really hit home on this trip was seeing how motivated and impassioned the local communities are about protecting coral reefs. It was the success stories that really stood out.

Take Nyoman Suastika for example. Nyoman lives in the community of Tulamben, a small fishing village in Bali known for one of the best wreck dives in the world. Divers and dive operators consistently dive in this area, but the increase in tourism was damaging the coral and harming the ecosystem. Dive operators from out of the area accompanied visiting divers, which meant a lot of the benefits of tourism weren’t staying within the community. As a result, the community didn’t have the resources to protect the environment. Nyoman took notice and started talking to his community about the issue. His community had a no-take conservation area, and he attended trainings to learn how to turn it into a formalized Marine Protected Area—a conservation area that is formally recognized and supported by the national government—and to ensure it is effectively managed. With the help of CORAL and our local partners, Nyoman organized his community to take action.

Nyoman is spearheading efforts in Tulamben, Bali to save coral reefs.

Nyoman is spearheading efforts in Tulamben, Bali to save coral reefs.

Together, they established a local group of dive guides called Organisasi Dive Guide Tulamben. Dive operators from outside of Tulamben now call on the local group to lead their trips, instead of sending in guides from outside the area. As a result, more of the tourism fees stay within the community. This enables the community to oversee and manage how their local coral reefs are utilized.

CORAL is helping Nyoman and his community protect and manage the local coral reefs in a variety of ways. This includes:

  • Setting up a voluntary dive fee—this will help the community raise money to support day-to-day management of the local MPA.
  • Developing a management plan that the community fully supports.
  • Assisting in advocacy efforts so government officials will help enforce MPA regulations.
  • Aligning them alongside local partners who can support their efforts. For example, Reef Check is helping them setup regular reef monitoring surveys that will track changes to the health of their coral reefs.

Nyoman is an incredibly humble and down-to-earth individual. His motivating driver is simple: his goal is to improve Tulamben’s reefs. He envisions a future where his community understands that conservation is beneficial and leads to a healthy reef and community. He envisions a community that prioritizes sustainable land-use practices. And he envisions an ocean without trash and with an abundant array of fish and wildlife.

There is so much incredible work happening in Bali, and around the world, to protect coral reefs. THIS is the kind of ground-up work that we should see in the news. I hope Nyoman’s story inspires you as much as it inspires me. Together we CAN and we WILL continue to protect coral reefs for generations to come.

 
   

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