Those Aren't Rocks You're Standing on
Coral reefs get their name from the animals that build reef structures ... thats right, ANIMALS. Although they look like rocks, coral are small, colonial animals that create reef structures over thousands of years.
Don't Touch Me- Its Degrading
Standing or touching reefs can easily damage the polyps that make up reef structures. These animals are fragile and sensitive, yet essential components of reef ecosystems. Over time, with continuous damage, these reef structures degrade away, losing their structural complexity. Without live coral to sustainably replace lost structure, the calcium carbonate habitat flattens, which can influence the diversity of species on the reef. This diversity is important for reefs to provide goods and service people depend on for food, livelihood, protection, and survival.
Here are ways you can keep the seas 3D!
Reduce Your Coral Footprint... Literally
Refrain from standing on, kicking, or touching coral. Doing so can kill live coral and fracture the reef structure. Continuous damage on frequently visited reef sites has compound negative effects on coral health and sustainability. Practice proper Ocean Etiquette and do not use coral as a diving board, punching bag, chair, or observation tower. Swim carefully, ensuring a safe distance between you and coral colonies, reducing (and hopefully eliminating) your coral footprint.
** When diving and snorkeling, be sure to remind others of proper ocean etiquette, as well!
Use Eco-Friendly Dive Operators
NOAA Created a program called Blue Star that identifies Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) Dive Operators who take steps to promote ocean conservation and ocean etiquette. Choose Blue Star operators for your next dive trip to feel confident that you are being led by trained professionals who are committed to limiting their coral footprint.
Moor the Merrier
Mooring bouys are floating devices, secured to the seafloor, which boaters can attach to without damaging the reefs. Many countries install mooring bouys on frequently-visited reef sites, to limit boaters' impact on physical reef structure. Use mooring bouys whenever possible!
If they aren't available, speak to local governments about installing mooring balls at your favorite reef sites!
When mooring buoys aren't available, be sure to anchor away from reef and coral structures. Use side-scan SONAR to detect reef habitats in the area, and find a flat soft-sediment bottom to anchor in.
Coral reefs are used for the goods they provide to consumers around the world. Numerous harvesting methods are detrimental to coral ecosystems by physically damaging the reef structure, or compromising the ecosystem food web, which contributes to overall reef health.
Avoid purchasing jewelry or memorabilia made from coral, which is typically illegally harvested. Coral reef products are also used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical, which may or may not be sustainably harvested. Be observant-- avoid purchasing items that contain chemicals or compounds that are unsustainably produced.
Some seafoods are harvested using damaging trawling methods. This fishing practice scrapes along the seafloor, scooping up everything, including reefs. Do not support fish caught from bottom trawls. Instead, switch to more sustainable fish, like Lionfish.
Shipwrecks create artificial habitats on the seafloor, providing homes and food for organisms that may not otherwise be in the area. Diving and snorkeling wrecks relieves physical pressure from coral ecosystems, by minimizing opportunities for people to come in contact with the reef.
Not only is this great for the environment, ship wrecks are also an awesome glimpse of history-- certainly worth seeing. Divers and snorkelers who visit shipwrecks and artificial reefs get to see a monument of history, enshrined on the seafloor. Not many people get to see that! Other artificial reefs are cool too, and also alleviate tourism pressure on reefs. Any non-natural structure on the seafloor is likely to attract life of some sort- most likely organisms and diversity not commonly seen on natural reefs. Use this as an opportunity to see something new, learn about history, or observe an environment unlike something you've seen in the past.