By Lisa K Terry
Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, like all over the Caribbean, we depend on our reefs for tourism, to protect our coastlines, beaches and favorite marine creatures, and to support recreational and commercial fisheries. However, the list of threats to coral reefs continues to grow. Climate change, pollution, run off, over-fishing, and vessel groundings continue to put pressure on our coral reef ecosystems.
But there are simple steps we can all take to help reduce threats and keep coral reefs healthy. No matter where you call home, try these 10 simple ways to help Caribbean coral reefs today:
- Conserve Energy: fossil fuel emissions contribute to global climate change, warming oceans and ocean acidification; so walk, ride your bike or ride the bus whenever possible. Use energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs or consider alternative energy like solar or wind.
- Avoid or find natural alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers: even if you don’t live near the ocean, rain can carry these and other runoff all the way to the sea, harming corals directly or spurring the growth of algae which can smother coral. Support local and organic agriculture to encourage natural alternatives.
- Get informed about coral reefs and the life it supports: the more you know the better you’ll be able to pass on the message. Tell your friends how important reefs are and how they can help.
- Shop wisely: Avoid buying coral as jewelry or décor. Support reef-friendly businesses—ask your fishing, boating, diving, and hotel operators how they are contributing to coral reef conservation.
- Don’t touch or anchor on the reef! When boating, swimming, snorkeling or diving: keep your snorkel fins and gear up off the bottom, even stirred up sand can smother coral animals. Use established boat moorings and if you have to anchor, find a big sandy area.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: especially plastics! Cut down on what gets thrown away and properly dispose of trash when at the beach or on the water. Carry away what others leave behind.
- Choose sustainable seafood: get informed about what types of seafood are sustainable, in season and managed. For instance, here in the Virgin Islands, we have a Reef Responsible Seafood Campaign.
- Vote for conservation: Encourage your government officials to protect coral reefs with effective management plans for our coastlines and fisheries. Ask them to take action to stop pollution and expand marine protected areas.
- Support conservation organizations: either with your time or money – your contribution will make a difference!
- Volunteer to help with beach clean ups, wetland restoration, reef monitoring, coral restoration projects and more! Check out our BleachWatch and Coral Restoration volunteer opportunities at www.reefconnect.org. Don’t live near the ocean? Volunteer to help plant trees which reduces run-off and can help lessen the effects of global climate change.