a colony of corals
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Our Simple Acts that Damage the Corals

A lot of people has engaged into simple acts that damage corals. I was guilty, unknowingly. Are you?

My love for the ocean grew even more when I started freediving. I was in awe and fascinated with what lies beneath the blue waters that I used to admire from the surface. All I knew was they are beautiful and not the fact they have been in need of protection from us, people, and our acts that damage them. Diving for years now and learning stuff about ocean conservation, I realized that I unknowingly did it. You may, too. With that, I am sharing these simple human acts that are harmful to the reef that you should know about.

a female freediver swimming among the school of jackfish

What are Corals?

To start with, corals are animals. They may seem to be like colorful plants underwater but they are actually tiny invertebrate animals called polyps. These polyps may connect with one another and create colonies of corals. These colonies of corals may grow and become a reef.

Corals feed on algae called zooxanthellae. They catch it with their tentacles and keep them in their tissues. This algae is actually responsible for their enticing colors. Just like any other animals, corals are also capable of getting stressed. The disturbance around them that gets them stressed cause them to expel the zooxanthellae. As a result, they either turn to brown or bleach. Corals that bleached may still recover and the period may vary. However, if the phenomena and activities that stress them continue to exist, the recovery might take long or worse, they may bleach for good and eventually die.

a colorful coral reef
Danke Laia’s House Reef in Pagkilatan, Batangas

Why are Corals Important?

Coral reefs are of great importance not just for marine creatures and organisms but also to us, humans. First, its colonies making up a reef contains a diverse ecosystem which lets the marine creatures and organisms dependent on it to thrive. Next, it protects the coast as it serves as a barrier that reduces the impact or power of the waves especially when there are typhoons. Further, it also provide food and livelihood to people. As for the latter, people at the coastal area make a living through fishing and tourism as well. However, they have the tendency to abuse these resources without knowing it. It’s not just them, though. Even tourists may do, too; and here’s how.

Our Acts that Damage the Corals

Using of Sunscreen that are not Reef-friendly

As much as we would want to protect our skin from the damaging UV rays during beach days, you might also want to check the chemical contents of your sunscreen. Most sunscreen products contain chemicals like oxybenzone with nanoparticles that can contribute to the damaging of the corals. These chemicals cause coral bleaching and an impediment to its reproduction. Hence, on your next beach day or dive, you might want to shift into reef-friendly sunscreen. Go for the ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead. In this way, you are not just protecting yourself but also the corals as well.

A local brand that offers reef-friendly sunscreen!

Stirring the Sediments Near the Corals

I admit. I did it a few times upon seeing on social media how the sand adds an effect to some flips and strides underwater. The photo came out lovely until someone called my attention. I was thankful that someone educated me on this. Just when we thought that it’s nothing, the sediment could actually harm the corals nearby. Doing so could make the water turbid or cloudy and get them smothered which then may deter some of their biological processes especially photosynthesis. Yes, you read it right. Corals are among the few animals along with other organisms that can photosynthesize to produce energy.

The next time that you would want to push through with such underwater shot, go to the spots with no corals nearby or none of them at all.

a freediver stirring up the sediments near the corals
I may be a self-confessed ocean lover but I did it few years ago. It was a mistake. I have learned and I must say I knew better so I’m sharing these to you, too, to avoid doing it.

Physical Contact with the Corals

This is among the simplest yet the most prevalent acts that damage the corals. As mentioned, corals are animals. They are not rocks that you can sit nor step on if you want to stay above the waters. They are neither plants that you can pick and take home for your artificial aquarium nor make accessories from. Frequent contact with them may stress them and lead to physical destruction and their death. For divers, be mindful of your fins as it might hit them.

You might also want to know that corals have stinging tentacles which may harm and irritate your skin. So, stay way from them as much as possible.

Improper Waste Management especially of Plastics

Plastics seem to be something that a lot of people can live without these days. A lot of us think that they make our lives more convenient. This convenience, however, comes with consequences that we do not experience firsthand (which eventually we would). But how do they get into the ocean when we think we are tossing them straight to the bin or we are not actually throwing it into the waters? It’s simple: (1) you toss it to the bin, the bins are collected and carried to the landfills, the wind carry them as they are lightweight, (2) we litter or; (3) they go down the drain.

What happens then when they get into the ocean and how do they affect the corals? First, plastics may get into the corals which may block the light and oxygen that they need. Second, corals may ingest microplastics which may be toxic to them. Lastly, this plastics may carry bacteria or fungi that may be pathogenic to corals.

colorful coral reef
Corals are a habitat to small fishes. They protect them from predation.

Acts that Damage the Corals, In a Nutshell

Of course, these are not the only acts that damage the corals. There are those large-scale ones such as dredging, destructive fishing, climate change and ocean acidification. But come to think of it, if millions of people are doing these, wouldn’t these acts, be it big or small, combined, speed up the reef’s jeopardy? If you know more of other human activities that should be in the list, let us know.

Let’s know better, spread the word and raise awareness together. Instead of shaming or bashing people whom we have observed to be doing these things, let’s educate them instead. It would be possible if we would educate ourselves, too. The ocean needs saving from us by us.

Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.


    • Anne Elizabeth Gumiran

      Ms. Lala, you’re heeeere ❤ I was really disheartened about what happened so I checked right away what might have caused it and if their vibrant colors would still be back 🙁 I’m really hoping it’s not too late for everyone to learn about this ?

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