Coral Reef Destruction

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Xochitl Bernadette Moreno's picture
Bleached Coral reefs in the Philippines

Off the coasts of many of the Philippine’s 7,107 islands are coral reefs teeming with life. These intricate ecosystems are integral parts of the culture and livelihood of the country.

They are also a big part of what draws 4.27 million tourists  to visit each year. Recently my husband and I spent two months travelling to a few of the Philippine islands and were both shocked and inspired by what we saw.

Being  in a region made up of so many islands means there is a lot of contact with the water. Whether it’s commuting by ferry boat, fishing the coast, taking day trips in small wooden vessels, snorkeling off shore or diving in the deep people have a great deal of contact with the marine environment.

The diversity underwater is astounding and over the span of a few minutes I saw more creatures than I normally encounter in a year on land and a great deal of them are things that I’ve never seen before. However the huge patches of dead coral I saw close by made me question how long the reef has before it becomes a barren underwater terrain.

A delicate balance exists between humans that work and live off the ocean and the health of the ecosystem. To maintain a healthy balance there must be limits to how many fish can be caught or how often and how many people can visit a particular place without damaging it.  This balance can be challenging to reach and perhaps the financial benefits of pushing the limits may exceed the fear of damaging the environment.

Politicians also play a part in the equation.  When we were there, many locals complained that dynamite fishing was rampant but was being tolerated by politicians who were more concerned about being reelected than preventing the harmful practice.

In many coastal regions subsistence fishermen depend on the ocean for survival. Unfortunately in many places destructive fishing practices are being used today including overfishing and the use of dynamite and cyanide. These techniques stun fish and allow fishermen to collect them. However they destroy the ecosystem along with the catch.

Although coral reefs cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, they are home to 25% of all marine fish species.  These fish eat the algae and control carbon dioxide in the earths atmosphere.  Warming of the ocean causes corals to sicken and die. Even a rise of one degree in the average water temperature can hurt the coral.   In addition to the reliance humans have on reefs for food and economy. It is in all our interest to protect them.

In the Philippines there is an organization called, Green Fins that reaches out to the dive and tourism industries educating and monitoring shop owners, tourists and communities about safe visitation practices. Some of these include never standing on, removing or damaging coral on purpose and never dropping an anchor on reefs instead using a buoy system to secure a boat.

According to, Patrick Thorton, of RARE conservation, “Preventing massive damage to ecosystems on a global scale cannot be done without reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking steps to slow down global climate change. In the meantime, we can do a better job of reducing the other threats to coral reefs so that they are poised to cope with changing conditions – effectively boosting their immune system so they can cope with stress. This can be done by increasing protection through effective protected areas, both on land and in the sea, and minimizing human impacts on coral reefs by limiting fishing, better coastal zone planning, and not tolerating ocean pollution”.

Dive tourism can also be beneficial to coral reefs by creating funding for protection programs, including Marine Protected Areas. By simply charging dive fees at certain dive sites, money can be generated for the conservation of coral reefs.

The Nature Conservancy has ten easy tips of things people can do to help protect coral reefs. it can be found at thier webpage;  http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/coralreefs/ways-to-help-coral-reefs/index.htm

This issue isn’t contained to the Philippines. Estimates are that 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been effectively destroyed in the last few decades and an additional 20% or more are severely degraded, particularly in the Caribbean Sea and Southeast Asia. This is a problem for the whole world to slove.

In 1998 was reported by Earth Watch that 30 % of the Philippine coral reefs were dead and 39 %

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