Reefs Need Heroes
WHY CORAL REEFS MATTER
My first open ocean dive was in Grand Cayman, chosen because it was easy to get to and offered good diving for beginners. My scuba certification in landlocked Colorado took place in an aquarium – cramped quarters, real fish, and artificial corals. When I jumped off the boat into the deep blue that first time, my mind was blown and my passion for scuba ignited.
Even as a novice diver though, I couldn’t help but notice dead corals and an ocean in trouble. On a trip to the Philippines, I saw fields of discarded plastic covering sea beds. Entire species responsible for building reefs were only rarely seen across the Caribbean except in coral ‘boneyards’. Widespread, careless, recreational fishing, and rapid construction and development contributed to the destruction of the Meso-American reef system I saw diving in Honduras.
When I dove ‘Jardines de la Reina’ in Cuba, I was overwhelmed by what I saw – an amazingly diverse and healthy ocean ecosystem. Cuba is impacted by global factors affecting all the world’s oceans, yet in that reef system there were fish the size of small cars swimming by Seussical towers of corals. On every dive, we saw schools of sharks, small and large fish, turtles and colorful corals of many species. Off-shore Cuban waters are without pesticides, fertilizers, and recreational recklessness, without widespread pollution and careless construction so even with global warming and ocean acidification some reefs can find ways survive.
Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems on earth, the backbone of life in the oceans, and vital to all life on our planet. It takes thousands of years for coral thickets to grow into a reef and yet, in just the last 35 years, 98% of reef-building hard corals have been destroyed in the Caribbean Sea. Once I saw what a healthy marine ecosystem could be, I knew I had to do something to help preserve, protect, and restore the others.
I learned of a Coral Restoration Certification program in Curaçao with Ocean Encounters. I signed up. This non-profit works to regrow Staghorn and Elkhorn corals from finger-sized pieces of coral called ‘frags’. They have ‘out planted’ over 7,500 corals in underwater nurseries, creating thickets that will merge together and grow to become reefs someday.
I will share more about coral restoration and individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments working to preserve and restore reefs on this site, and invite you to share your comments, observations and experiences. Follow our blog, and become a part of our mission.
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