Once the coral is affected by climate change and a cyclone comes in, it’s screwed.”. And much like Lady Elliott, nature is returning to reclaim its home here: loggerhead turtles use the island for nesting, large brown boobies roost on the shipwreck, while brain coral has stemmed from the anchors and chains that scar the seabed. How the world is coming together to save coral reefs. Volunteer. Despite notable successes at the local level, we still have a gap to make significant impacts at the ecosystem level. Thankfully he agrees. Scientists globally are involved in much research into how we can achieve this. And we know the answer. Climate change and rising sea temperatures are the biggest threat. Plant a coral: Join our efforts to plant and restore corals in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Micronesia. Coral reefs produce a huge amount of oxygen And we kind of need O2 to survive. Peter is managing director at Lady Elliot Island, the eco resort I’m launching into the ocean from. We may lose them all by 2050. Corals themselves are living creatures — tiny marine invertebrates that group together to form colonies. The difference is that a few generations ago, my grandparents didn’t know what they were doing to the planet. So when you see a piece of coral branching its bright structure upwards from the sea floor, what you’re actually seeing is hundreds or thousands of tiny coral polyps united together. I wonder aloud whether the droves of tourist boats that come here on an almost daily basis are adding to the problem. Like many other snorkelling and diving spots on the Capricorn Coast, coral health charts are widespread, and visitors are asked to monitor and log coral colours. I find my way back to the boat and clamber aboard. After dinner, Peter takes me on a tour around the island. It’s the southernmost island on the reef, and the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. T he fight to save coral reefs just got more complicated. Emirates fly from Heathrow to Brisbane Airport in Queensland, with a stopover in Dubai, from £700 per person. I dive once more off Lady Musgrave’s shores before it’s time to check out the neighbouring carbon-positive Pumpkin Island — a privately owned island that runs as an eco-retreat and, quite remarkably, manages to offset 150% of its annual carbon emissions. Your excitement will help others get involved. We’ll still have a reef, but there will be less biodiversity. Professor Peter Harrison and a team at Southern Cross University have successfully trialled larval re-seeding (that is harvesting coral eggs and sperm during the coral spawn season, growing the coral larvae in laboratory tanks, and then re-seeding it on reefs in the Philippines and on the Great Barrier Reef to re-establish breeding populations. Become an informed consumer and learn how your daily choices such as water use, recycling, seafood, vacation spots, fertilizer use, and driving times can positively (or negatively) impact the health of coral reefs. The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is a non-profit, environmental NGO that is on a mission to save the world’s coral reefs. But it too holds scars from human destruction. 10 ways to protect CORAL REEFS. “I can point to just out here, a few feet from the shore, to some of the most stunning coral you’ll ever see and you’d find it hard to believe that seven or eight years ago, it looked like a desert,” Peter tells me. If climate change continues at its current rate, there’s a real threat coral reefs will be dead within our lifetime. Following the widely reported unprecedented mass coral bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, this isn’t what I expected to find on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We’ll be sharing more about how we can save coral reefs together during our Earth Day webinar on April 22 nd. Peter Gash, managing director at Lady Elliot Island, Natalie Lobartolo, marine biologist for tour operator Lady Musgrave Experience, At the chef's table: Derek Johnstone in East Lothian, From Da Vinci to Delos: our favourite things for April 2019, Hay Festival 2019: speakers' favourite travel books, A traveller's guide to the Howgill Fells, Cumbria, Subscribe to National Geographic Traveller. If we rally together the same way we did 50 years ago, our collective efforts can encourage our leaders, industries, and the world to take action to save coral reefs and our planet’s other vital ecosystems. Small, daily actions can help reduce coral reef loss, like reducing stormwater and fertilizer runoff or … My breathing is laboured, soaking up my supply of oxygen at an unsustainable rate, as the waves pound my body. Recommendations are being made, studies conducted and funding sought in order to save coral reefs. Plastic bags, unfortunately, look like jellyfish. We work collaboratively with communities to reduce direct threats to reefs in ways that provide lasting benefits to people and wildlife. The efforts to save coral reefs cannot be ultimately successful, and they won’t be restored to their potential until the environment becomes more hospitable to their survival. How to cite this article, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Five Things You Should Know About Coral Reefs. Coral around the world has been dying at unprecedented rates, largely the result of warming ocean waters due to climate change. Tragically, since 2016, this has been the case for half of the reef — 80% of the coral along the reef’s north coast was killed off as a result of heat stress. Why we need to save the coral reefs 1. This, in part, triggered the Paris Agreement — a United Nations-sponsored agreement between nearly 200 countries to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Coral reefs serve a lot of important functi… Acidification, which occurs as seawater absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, reduces the amount of carbonate available for corals to build their skeletons, so reefs grow more slowly and become weaker. I head to Lady Musgrave, an uninhabited coral cay popular with nesting turtles. Mitigating climate change is the only long-term, sustainable solution to conserve and restore coral reefs. On its surrounding reef bed, I dive into another world of earthy colours, this time, with bursts of lilacs, powder blues and lime greens. 27. The largest reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 1,400 miles. The largest reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 1,400 miles. Visitors spent their days riding sea turtles on the island before that was prohibited in the 1960s — the same decade when the harbour was demolished to give boats direct access to the beach, taking part of the reef with it. To close this gap, we need to increase resources dedicated to restoration. And we do have time to turn this all around; we just need to play our parts.” Cancelling trips here for fear of seeing bleaching, Natalie says, will mean losing out on tourism and money for conservation. oysterdiving.com. The benefit of MPAs is that rules can be set in place that protects life on the reef while still allowing for sustainable human use. How You Can Help We all have a role in protecting coral reefs We are not doomed to lose all corals to bleaching, but we need to act now if we want to protect coral for future generations. Use a biodegradable sunscreen, like Aethic, which produces a triple-filter, eco-compatible sunscreen, Monitor changes: Lots of resorts and dive centres supply coral health charts you can take into the water to monitor the coral’s colour and report any possible bleaching concerning, Take nothing: Many eco-resorts have commandeered the motto ‘take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints’ — listen to it, Oyster Diving referral or open-water course. I hope to see you there! And the birds are pooping. The results? When we reach the new site, I steel myself and dive in. Often, the best way to conserve a coral reef is by establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA). MPAs define what is allowed to happen where, and can be set up to achieve a wide variety of objectives. Signs are dotted across the island, encouraging visitors to be mindful of the footprint they leave and to report anything that might impact negatively on the reef and wildlife. When I’ve regained my composure a little, I ask the skipper to take me to somewhere with shallower, calmer waters. A resilient coral reef is one that can either resist a large-scale stressful event or recover from it. A coral cay formed entirely by sedimentary debris, the island appeared above sea level some 3,500 years ago. The question is not if we can save the coral reefs, but if we choose to. Corals can recover, but the process stresses and may kill them. It has around 900 islands, more than 2,900 individual reefs, and provides a home for in excess of 1,500 species of fish. “We’ve seen some bleaching here, but it’ll take time to figure out if the algae will come back or if it’s gone forever.”. Threatened reefs can be protected by eradicating destructive rats on tropical islands, scientists say. Volunteer in local beach or reef cleanups. It’s a whole new world; a world where the coral is endless and bountiful. The same panic that hit me on my first dive starts to bubble up inside me as I sink down further into a world that isn’t mine. You give up on it.”. Coral reefs play a vital role in sustaining the health of our oceans and our economy. At risk of extinction, they have multiple positive effects on the planet's health. And we’re in the process of putting a thousand Band Aids on. If climate change continues at its current rate, there’s a real threat coral reefs will be dead within our lifetime. Excess nutrients from sources like farming or wastewater can cause algae blooms, which smother reefs. There are also many things you can do to ensure that you are environmentally conscious when you visit coral reefs or coastal areas. Having spotted a piece of creamy white coral near the shore, I talk to Rachael, a nature guide and also one of the island’s resident marine biologists. “We all have a circle of influence. The coral here at Lady Musgrave started to bleach at the tips in August 2018. Author: NOAA Last updated: 11/05/20 We can turn a blind eye if we don’t see the pain the reef is going through. The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater that eventually find their ways back into the ocean. Don't LitterHumans are filthy creatures who treat our planet and oceans like a trash can. I feel it’s an obligation. Conserve Water. | Infographic Transcript Download infographic PDF: English version Download infographic PDF: Spanish version (Spanish translation courtesy of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council). By 2030, we may have lost up to 60% of our reefs. Plastic pollution is one of the issues Natalie finds herself talking about more and more these days. “But, what we learnt was that it brought the birds. “The Great Barrier Reef is mostly hard coral,” says Natalie Lobartolo, a marine biologist for tour operator Lady Musgrave Experience. I pause at a patch of coral and notice manta rays circling — it’s where they get their skin, gills and teeth cleaned by smaller creatures that feed on the parasites. It’s the only living organism you can see from outer space. But there’s new growth that can be spotted here too, with turquoise tips spindling out of the blue branching coral. We couldn’t resist to make an interview with him and raise this extremely important topic and discuss the state of coral reef and what we all can do everyday to save coral reefs and our planet. I travel further north, to Heron Island, where a centre has been set up for coral reef and ecological research. Reefs also provide valuable ecotourism opportunities, buffer the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons before they reach the shoreline and provide hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the global economy. “Then there’s the mining, tourism, bad weather. How can I help the coral reefs? It’s a careful arrangement of cogs, laboriously maintained to protect the island’s now 5,000-tree forest — and its surrounding reef — from damage. These include things such as hiring local guides to support the economy, removing all trash from an area, never touching or harassing wildlife in reef areas, and avoiding dropping your boat anchor or chain nearby a coral reef. Please, watch and share this video to raise awareness in everyday life. We do now. The research was repeated, only this time to test a rise of 1C. Back on shore, I listen to presentations on wildlife and conservation by the resort’s resident marine biologists and, come nightfall, enjoy a spot of stargazing in a sky free of light pollution. Learn how to make smart seafood choices at w ww.fishwatch.gov. Published in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK), Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Flipboard, SubscribePrivacy Policy(UPDATED)Terms of ServiceCookie PolicyPolicies & ProceduresContact InformationWhere to WatchConsent ManagementCookie Settings. “I fear if we close it off, then it can just be forgotten about. This is my first dive in the ocean. Here are some specific actions you can take: 1. Plastic has been banned, fuels are no longer burned and guests are encouraged to leave no trace. Now, the International Coral Reef Society’s scientists have published what they call the “Pledge for Coral Reefs,” a list of 12 actions everyone can take to help protect coral and coral reefs. NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is helping local managers and communities do just that. Tourism is still rife today with the island doubling up as a resort, only now, it’s an eco-friendly one. Trash that … The tide comes in, and takes it into the sand, which washes over the reef to give it nutrients.”, It used to be worse here in the southern part of the reef, I’m told, but education and awareness have saved the reef from teetering on the edge of death. Take a reef-friendly approach to sun protection. As ecological catastrophes go, it’s hard to find anything more bleak or depressing than the coral reef bleaching crisis. Life here, it would seem, is thriving. For example, scientific research has demonstrated that reefs need a precautionary threshold of roughly 30 percent live coral cover to secure growth, and at … Volunteer in local beach or reef cleanups. Coral reefs cover less than 0.2% of our oceans, and yet they contain 25% of all the world’s marine life. “It’s a great debate with our national parks — do we shut off the reef entirely or keep it open for tours that are educational and raise awareness?” Natalie says. Today, under the watchful eye of Peter, the island has become a conservation eco-centre, gently reverting back to an island where nature rules. Helping Keep Reefs Healthy Control trash and chemical runoff from your property. Corals can recover, but the process stresses and may kill them. That’s a dangerous thing to think. When the bird poop lands on the ground and the water falls on top, it soaks down into the aquifer. When Professor Peter Harrison, a reef researcher and marine ecologist at Southern Cross University, used these labs for his study into coral rehabilitation in 2016, he found that a rise in sea temperature of 4C would kill off the algae that keep the coral alive. People come here and think that, because the coral’s not as bright as it is on documentaries, it’s dead. Algae provide corals’ color, so the reefs turn white. It was reports of coral bleaching that brought Natalie back to Australia six years ago, after living in Spain. Schemes to save those reefs are as creative as they are varied; most recently, scientists released data showing that marine protected areas can help save reefs if they are placed in just the right spots. Eliminating footprints Since Peter discovered how the reef can be protected through land-based maintenance, other islands in the area have followed suit. Coral reefs are like underwater cities, inhabited by thousands of species, built up by the calcium carbonate skeletons of corals. So the turtles spend more time at the surface, trying to breathe, and that’s when they’re more susceptible to being hit by boats, too.” We stroll on the powdery white sand of Lady Musgrave Island, spotting turtle nesting sites tucked in the shade of the trees. It’s clear- if destinations like the Turks and Caicos islands are to keep their pristine seas and beautiful reefs, we need to take action now. Genetics is also becoming a larger area of coral research, giving scientists hope they might one day restore reefs with more heat tolerant coral. MPAs can be set up by the government, but in many places, traditional and local leaders have established their own community management areas which they also monitor and enforce. Contact with the reef will damage the delicate coral animals, and anchoring on the reef can kill corals, so look for sandy bottom or use moorings, if available. It’s really a death by a thousand cuts. Though Lady Elliot and Heron are both coral cays, Heron is considerably older, the sand underfoot ground down over time to a finer grain. It’s also my first panic attack. Promoting reef resilience is a local solution. My hand reaches out for an aid that isn’t there as I’m temporarily swallowed by the sea. Nearly three million people visit the reef each year, although tourism isn’t the main issue at the moment. Algae provide corals’ color, so the reefs turn white. The idea is simple. Sea cucumbers spurt out flecks of sand onto midnight blue starfish as tawny sharks swim by, changing direction with a flick of their fins and startling schools of clownfish as they emerge from the safety of their anemone homes. And it is, after all, humans that are ruining this place. The recent years of conservation have seen the turtles return to lay their eggs. The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater that will eventually find its way back into the ocean. We’ve known for 30 years that climate change leads to the death of entire coral reef ecosystems, and yet we’ve done almost nothing to save them. We know climate change is the single greatest global threat to coral reefs. It was first occupied in the 1920s when a factory producing soup from turtle flesh was built here. The next weighty punch came in the 1950s, when tourism was introduced. Killing rats could save coral reefs. Finally, stay informed and spread the word! With sea temperatures averaging 27C, the southern part of the reef is in a much safer space compared to the 35C further north. 8 Easy Ways You Can Help Coral Reefs Here are some simple, effective actions you can take to help save coral reefs and the fish, animals and plants that depend on them. Peter’s words stick with me, and I keep them in mind as I head off to see what’s happening on the other islands on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast. And it’ll run with it.”, Do your research: It’s important to go with a responsible tour operator — check their credentials and that they’re committed to conservation, Watch your fins: When snorkelling or diving on the reef, be mindful of kicking too much as fins can damage coral, Choose an eco-friendly sunscreen: A lot of sunscreens include harmful chemicals that can damage coral. Earthy shades are interspersed with muted blues, reds and yellows. Before I leave Heron Island, Rachael tells me how every part of the reef is different to dive on — each island holds its own story, and its own pain. For a decade in the 1800s, the island was visited by workers mining guano (bird poo) — used as gunpowder and fertiliser — which virtually wiped the land of all vegetation, save for eight Pisonia trees. “Their throats are filled with spines to help them swallow jellyfish. My days as a guest at Heron Island are filled with sunrise snorkels around a shipwreck accompanied by rays, sharks and turtles. But the imminent danger to this part of the world isn’t ignored. NOAA is working to increase understanding of the causes of reef decline. Some ingredients in sunscreen can be harmful to or even kill corals. An estimated 4,000 fish species, and some 25 percent of marine life, depend on coral reefs at some point in their existence. If you don't live near the coast, get involved in protecting your watershed. The soft coral around the reefs of Southeast Asia, that’s where the colour really pops. A Plan to Save Coral Reefs Saving and restoring the world's coral reefs requires a multi-pronged approach that ranges from the local to the global level. I’m a human. “This means the colours are quite muted. A coral cay formed entirely by sedimentary debris, the island appeared above sea level some 3,500 years ago. We all have to take action.”. Conserve water. It’s a feeling I surrender to, giving space for it to grow. If possible, get … Mitigate Climate Change. Keep flying to a minimum: aim for no more than THREE return air-tickets in a year and offset all … Better yet, … I close my eyes and breathe deeply, with the last thing Peter Gash said to me ringing through my head: “Each and every one of us has been responsible for this, but we’re all here now because we care. Educate yourself about why healthy coral reefs are valuable to the people, fish, plants, and animals that depend on them. Coastal development can harm corals by increasing sediment, pollution and nutrient runoff. It’s an expectation. This can lead to the coral’s death. They get caught in their throats, making breathing almost impossible. I catch glimpses of turtles, hiding under crevasses as they scratch their algae-covered backs on the reef. It has around 900 islands, more than 2,900 individual reefs, and provides a home for in excess of 1,500 species of fish. “That could be bleaching or coral disease,” she informs me. Avoid touching reefs or anchoring your boat on the reef. Choose sustainable seafood. Corals live at their thermal threshold, meaning even a minute change in temperature can lead to disastrous impacts like coral bleaching and even death. Inevitably, the population of turtles in the area dropped dramatically during the decade the factory was in operation. New research found that even if humans succeed in protecting reefs from pollution and overfishing, global warming will still pose a … “We’re lucky here in the south because the coral is protected,” says Peter Gash. We have to keep in mind how inspiring nature is — if we give it a hand, it’ll take it. “Closer to the coast and further north, there are cities washing pollution into the ocean,” Peter continues. Water from the ocean is desalinated to reduce the amount of drinking water being imported in plastic bottles, energy comes from solar power, and waste is composted in a pit system to support the growth of more foliage. Reduce your carbon footprint "Climate change is the greatest threat to coral reef ecosystems," according to the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. Coral reefs are facing a host of local stressors. 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