Nearly 11 percent of the world's existing coral reefs have already been destroyed and another 16 percent were severely damaged during the El Niño event in 1998. Another 32 percent or more may be lost in the next thirty years if we don't take action now.
Whether you visit a coral reef area on holiday, live near coral reefs, or live far from coral reefs, you can do simple things at home and abroad to help protect these fragile ecosystems. The guidelines listed below contain basic information that everyone can use. More specific information for tourists and for businesses is also listed below.
General Best Practices that Help Save Coral Reefs
Visiting a Coral Reef
Best Practices When Diving
Living in a Coral Reef Area
General Best Practices that Help Save Coral Reefs
Follow the three Rs whenever possible: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Save energy in your home by using compact fluorescent lightbulbs and energy-efficient appliances, wrapping your water heater to save heat, and running dishwashers and washing machines with full loads.
Try to reduce fossil fuel emissions by driving less (combine errands when possible, car pool, take public transportation), walking or biking instead of driving, and purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles.
Got Fish? Consult one of the seafood guides listed below to make sustainable seafood purchases.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide (wallet size available)
National Audubon Society Seafood Guide (wallet size available)
Environmental Defense Smart Seafood
Seafood Choices Alliance
Reduce harmful chemicals in your home and garden so that they don't end up in the water system.
Many common household products are toxic. Look for water-based, non-toxic alternatives whenever possible.
Use nonpetroleum-based cleaning products (look for chlorine- and phosphate-free, non-toxic, and biodegradable products).
Choose water-based, low biocide, low VOC paints.
Never pour unwanted chemicals on the ground. Soil cannot purify most chemicals, and they could eventually contaminate runoff.
Buy chemicals only in the amount you expect to use, and apply them only as directed.
Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers by leaving grass clippings on your lawn and composting your food and yard waste to fertilize your garden. When chemical fertilizers get into water systems, they can cause algal blooms.
Try to purchase organic, locally-grown produce. When you buy food produced near your home, less energy is used to transport food to your area. Pesticides can eventually drain into the ocean, so organic food is better for the environment.
Think about how much packaging is used in your food products: the more packaging, the more waste.
Visiting Coral Reefs
Visiting tropical areas is a wonderful way to relax and get away from it all. But remember that waste disposal on small islands is often more challenging and less environmentally responsible than it is at home. Please bring any old batteries or plastic items back home for recycling whenever possible.
Because coral reef organisms are very delicate, please:
- Do not disturb or harass marine life.
- Do not remove marine life from its natural habitat or shells.
- Do not step on or touch coral.
- Do not stir up sediment near coral.
- Try to choose resorts and local businesses that support coral reef protection.
- Avoid buying souvenirs made from coral or other marine organisms.
- Support local initiatives by paying conservation fees, even if they are voluntary.
Before planning a dive trip, find out whether:
- Visitors are encouraged to learn about the geography, culture, and ecology of the dive destinations;
- Pre-trip information about the destination's local customs and proper dive etiquette is provided to visitors;
- References to educational materials are provided to visitors ahead of time to facilitate the learning process;
- Specific attention is given to coral reef ecology and to guidelines/regulations for boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and other recreational uses of the reef; and
- Tours are designed to enhance visitor awareness and understanding of the local coral reef ecosystems.
Before choosing a dive operator, find out whether:
- Tours respect all local guidelines, laws, regulations, and customs;
- Local dive guides and masters are hired when possible and appropriate;
- Local perspectives are sought in planning interpretive programs;
- Pre-dive talks are offered by knowledgeable dive masters;
- Talks educate divers about special features of the sites and reinforce rules for divers, such as:
- Maintain neutral buoyancy:
- Maintain control of fins, gauges, and accessories;
- No touching, standing on, or collecting coral;
- No feeding or handling fish and other living organisms; and
- Abide by any fishing and game regulations.
- Mooring buoys are used when possible and anchors are never dropped onto coral reefs;
- Engines are well maintained to avoid release of petroleum products in reef areas;
- Sewage is disposed in a way that does not affect the nutrient balance of the reef ecosystem;
- Environmentally sound methods of trash disposal are used on boats and on the land;
- Special provisions are made for disposal of harmful susbstances, such as chemicals used for film processing;
- Tour operators limit the group size and frequency of dives;
- Dive masters rotate dive sites to avoid over-using a particular site; and
- Dive masters verify the proficiency of new divers before allowing them to dive at fragile or difficult dive sites.
- Are visitors encouraged to participate in local conservation efforts, particularly regarding the use of energy and fresh water?
- Are visitors informed about how they can donate or otherwise support local coral reef conservation initiatives?
- Do tour operators donate money or assistance to help the local environment?
- Do tour operators work with local authorities to minimize the environmental impact of visitors, particularly in marine protected areas?
- Is all construction planned to avoid negative environmental impacts on coral reefs, mangrove, and seagrass ecosystems?
- Is public participation sought and encouraged for all projects affecting the community?
- Are local traditions and use patterns for the reefs respected?
- Are local naturalists hired when possible and appropriate?
- Do visitors stay in lodging that fits the environment?
- Are local businesses and service providers supported as much as possible?
- Are visitors encouraged to buy authentic arts and crafts made by local artisans and to purchase other products and services that benefit the local economy?
- Is purchasing coral or souvenirs made from coral, turtles, and other threatened wildlife prohibited or strongly discouraged?
More best practices and guidelines are available in a variety of languages in the For Tourists section. If you are a dive operator , check out Best Practices for Business Guides .
Best Practices When Diving
In the water, coral-friendly divers:
- Avoid all contact with corals and other marine life
- Never chase or ride marine animals
- Take nothing living or dead out of the sea, except recent garbage
- Maintain good buoyancy control
- Practice good finning technique and body control
- Ensure all equipment is well secured so that it cannot drag or snag on corals
- Only handle, manipulate, or feed marine life under expert guidance, never just to take photographs
- Avoid using gloves and kneepads in coral reef environments
Out of the water, coral-friendly divers:
- Encourage and support the use of dive moorings
- Avoid buying souvenirs that include coral, turtle, or other marine life
- Learn all they can about coral reefs and the fish and marine creatures of the reef
- Take care not to litter, especially aboard dive boats
- Always pay protected area fees (even if voluntary)
- Strictly obey all local dive rules, regulations, and customs
LIving in a Coral Reef Area
Follow all of the guidelines above and these other tips:
- Reduce the amount of plastic trash that you generate by buying in bulk when possible.
- Plastic, in particular, can be very harmful to marine life. It decomposes into small pellets that can concentrate pollutants like DDT.
- Many seabirds that breed on or near coral islands and atolls ingest plastic debris.
- Turtles drown when eating plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish.
- Learn about ways you can join local volunteer projects to help protect your marine environment.
- Learn about and obey local laws designed to protect coral reefs and coral reef habitats.