Help Protect Our Planet's Coral Reefs

by The Coral Reef Alliance

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.

Coral Reefs in Maui
Coral Reefs in Maui

You’ve probably heard about it in the news. You may even remember living through it in the early 80s and 90s. El Niño is here. It’s already impacting the Pacific Ocean and this August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saw variances in sea surface temperatures near or greater than 2.0 degrees Celsius.

El Niño refers to warming waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Those warmer waters spread to the east, bringing with them a drastic change in weather patterns. Scientists predict that this year’s El Niño is extreme and may last through the spring of 2016.

That means trouble for coral reefs. In fact, NOAA recently announced that “bleaching due to heat stress is expected to impact approximately 38 percent of the world’s coral reefs—and almost 95% of those in U.S. waters.”

When water temperatures grow too warm, corals become stressed and oust the tiny algae that live in their tissues, called zooxanthellae. Corals and zooxanthellae have a mutually beneficial relationship that can be disrupted by changing temperatures. Without zooxanthellae, corals lose an important food source which significantly limits their ability to grow. Zooxanthellae are also responsible for giving corals their brilliant and vibrant colors—without them, when they are banished, corals bleach and turn a skeletal white color.

Coral bleaching isn’t necessarily the same thing as corals dying. Corals can survive bleaching events, but their survival is contingent on the how warm the water gets and how long the warm period lasts. They will, however, have a harder time recovering if they are already struggling or unhealthy. If there’s a back-to-back series of warm water events, and if corals are already stressed from overfishing and pollution, mortality rates can skyrocket. Given the local threats reefs face in many places, we can expect high coral mortality especially if this year’s El Niño is as strong as scientists predict. We’re disappointed to report that we’ve already seen coral bleaching in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the Pacific.

The warm waters of an El Niño are also associated with an increase in the number of tropical cyclones. These weather events can cause a lot of physical destruction to a reef. If corals bleach, they have a hard time recovering—their growth is curtailed without their partner, zooxanthellae. The combination of increased water temperatures and storm activity can be a “double whammy” for coral reefs.

El Niño is a natural phenomenon and we can’t stop it. When you add an El Niño to an already stressed system its effects are more severe. So what can you do about it? You can reduce your emissions and advocate on behalf of clean energy. When you’re out diving you can report bleached corals to local reef managers or to ReefBase. You can also help the Coral Reef Alliance do what it  does best—unite communities to reduce local threats. If reefs are healthy, with clean water and an abundant amount of fish life, we can expect the corals to come back later. If we combine our efforts across the globe we can help give corals a fighting chance at surviving these environmental changes.

Algae and sediment pollution near reef beach, Maui
Algae and sediment pollution near reef beach, Maui

From a conservation point of view, we don’t often think of coral reefs going hand in hand with construction and development. But they do—coral reefs attract tourists, and with tourism comes infrastructure. Coral reefs also provide benefits to communities, and people tend to concentrate in areas where they can reap those benefits.

Over the years coral reefs along Maui’s West coast have fallen victim to this cycle. As more houses, hotels, roads, and other infrastructure projects are created, more and more rainwater runs off into the ocean, bringing with it nutrients and sediment that are harmful to the reefs.

Earlier this summer we partnered with the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) to hold a six-week course for West Maui’s landscapers, landowners, and accommodations industry professionals to address this issue. The course taught them about various low impact design (LID) principles they could implement in landscape and construction projects to help reduce the amount of polluted water running off into the ocean during storms.

LID uses the principles of nature to design landscape and development plans that preserve the natural function of a watershed. For example:

  • Build parking lots with pervious pavement. This allows water to seep deep into the soil where nutrients and sediment are filtered out.
  • Design rain gardens and install them near beach park showers to help absorb water runoff.
  • Catch rainwater and use it to irrigate landscapes, thereby reducing the amount of water running off of roofs after rain falls, and to prevent the need to use valuable potable water to irrigate.
  • Seven hotel and condo properties were represented at our Reef-Friendly Shoreline Innovations course

If we work to restore the watershed to its natural state, we can divert stormwater from entering the ocean and help improve the water quality for coral reefs.

Individuals from seven different properties attended and represented more than 100 acres of coastline. One participant came all the way from Lanai in order to learn more and bring LID principles back to his hotel, The Four Seasons, Lanai. In fact, we are proud to report that participants are taking action and each one developed a sustainability project that they are implementing on their property.

“Through this course we invested in human resources and knowledge, and that goes really far,” says Wes Crile, CORAL’s Hawaii-based program manager and coordinator of the course. “It’s one thing to build a rain garden for someone, it’s another thing to educate them on how to build it. We’re building a collaborative group of LID advocates who will now spread the word.”

Coral reefs are a vital habitat for marine life, supporting nearly a quarter of all marine animals. By protecting them, we’re also protecting one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. But keeping coral reefs healthy isn’t just beneficial for the environment, it’s also beneficial for communities. Coral reefs are an important source of protein for more than one billion people worldwide—and they provide vital livelihoods for families. They also help protect the coastline from large storm waves. Hotels are also finding it’s in their best interest to protect them. In Hawaii alone, reefs bring in more than $10 million in tourism revenue annually. Sustainable practices are no longer a trend, they are here to stay. More and more travelers seek to support businesses that help protect the environment.

When hotels invest and take the time to educate their staff they help build a vital skill set and knowledge that gives employees an opportunity to talk about sustainability initiatives to their guests.

Take the Kahana Sunset Condominiums—longtime resident and site manager, Jackie Scheibel, attended the course and she is helping to pave the way with a new public walkway that will provide easy beach access. She is actively using her new LID skills and will use big planters to filter stormwater as it comes off the road and place native plants along the hillside to help stabilize sediment. In addition, she will use pervious pavement so water will sink into the ground instead of running into the ocean.

Just imagine what would happen if these LID practices were implemented across large coastal properties—we could potentially divert millions of gallons of stormwater from entering West Maui’s marine environment each year.

Help CORAL and hotels such as The Four Seasons and Kahana Sunset continue this great work! Show your support and help provide a more secure future for the communities and industries that rely on coral reefs by ensuring reefs have the clear, nutrient-free water they need to survive.

Reef-Friendly Shoreline Innovations Course
Reef-Friendly Shoreline Innovations Course


Sereima, a beneficiary of reef funds
Sereima, a beneficiary of reef funds

One of my favorite things about working for CORAL is hearing about the direct impacts we have on local communities and people’s lives. It’s not every day that you hear about conservation efforts that have enhanced people’s lives, and it’s such a powerful thing to know that communities can really thrive and benefit from protecting their natural resources. So when I hear about how our work translates into benefits for local communities, it warms me from the inside out.

I had one of those moments recently when speaking with Juliane Diamond, one of our program managers. She was in Fiji last month, and attended a stakeholders meeting for the Namena Marine Reserve. The meeting was held by the Kubulau Resource Management Committee (KRMC), a local NGO we’re working with to protect the Reserve. Juliane was there along with about twenty other people—a mix of community members, dive operators, KRMC members, local authority figures, and more. They joined together to talk about the year’s progress, and the future of the reserve.

When we met to talk about her trip, Juliane reminded me that the Namena Marine Reserve sold over 1,600 dive tags last year—more than ever before. They sold so many that they ran out halfway through the year and had to order more. The dive tags generate much needed revenue for the reserve and not only help fund management efforts, but are also used to directly benefit the neighboring Kubulau community. So these extra funds mean that the local community can install shelters and make repairs at bus stops, so community members don’t have to wait for buses in the rain.

The funds are also used to provide scholarships for children of the Kubulau community to go to school. Juliane had a chance to catch up with Sereima, a scholarship recipient from 2007. She received a scholarship to help her complete her bachelor’s in Applied Science, and is now working for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. “I felt relieved that there was something there that could help me finish my degree and get to graduate,” said Sereima. “If [the scholarship] hadn’t existed, I don’t know if I would have been able to afford it.”

According to Aborosio, a KRMC member, “Namena is a source of life for Kubulau.” And it really is. Surrounding the tiny island of Namenalala, the approximately 70 square kilometer Namena Marine Reserve was established in 1997, when community members successfully banned commercial fishing within the region. We’ve been working with the community to help them address illegal poaching in the Reserve, and to help enhance the dive tag system and generate more revenue for the Reserve and the community. While the reserve helps preserve such an incredible underwater treasure and popular dive spot, it is also so much more. No one could have said it better than Fiji resident and KRMC member Tevita: “CORAL and Namena carry the hopes and future generations of Kubulau.”

Thank you for helping to ensure the success of such an important project!

Fiji's beautiful Namena Marine Reserve


The small-fishing village of Tulamben in Bali struggled with poverty for decades, but that changed with a series of unfortunate events a few decades ago. The USS Liberty beached along its rocky shore after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. And in 1963 the eruption of Mount Agung pushed the ship into the ocean, making it quickly one of the most well-known wreck dives in the world. It wasn’t long before tourism became the main source of income for the community. Today, Tulamben is known as one of the best dive spots in Bali, and the USS Liberty wreck can see upwards of 100 people per day during the high season.

But with tourism comes more people, and more people means more stress on the marine ecosystems. We started working with the Tulamben community in 2013 to help them manage their coral reefs, and the community is starting to mobilize to take action—notably in the area of waste management.

As it is in many other places in Bali, waste management is a challenge in Tulamben, especially during the rainy season. Tulamben, located at the base of Mount Agung in the North East of Bali, is one of the driest places on the island. Rain is a luxury there, but when it comes, it washes the volcanic sediment and trash that has accumulated in the dry river beds straight into the ocean, burying the nearshore coral reefs.

The village planned and held a community-wide beach cleanup on February 25, 2015, to help remove some of the debris and bring attention to this issue within the broader community. More than 80 people attended the event, including Nyoman Ardika, the head of Tulamben village, and Komang Agus Sukasena, the head of the environmental agency.

“We need both healthy coral reefs and clean beaches for tourists to keep coming to Tulamben,” shared Veronika Niken, one of my coworkers here in Indonesia. “We were excited to see such a great turn-out at the event and to see the community really come together to protect their coral reefs.”

As a next step, community leaders have begun collaborating with their local government to rehabilitate some of their coral reefs. To further quote Veronica, “We look forward to continuing to support this village. We’re excited to see what the future holds for their reefs and and to keep partnering with them in their important efforts.”


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Organization Information

The Coral Reef Alliance

Location: Oakland, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sarah Freiermuth
Marketing & Communications Director
San Francisco, CA United States
$11,919 raised of $25,000 goal
222 donations
$13,081 to go
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