While on a recent snorkeling trip I lost myself in the submarine habitats that skirted a small island in the Caribbean. I floated by forests of pink reindeer coral followed by a distinctly different area of brownish orange staghorn corral and then a multihued collection of fans waving as I passed. The fish population was ever-present and diverse, ranging from large, colorful parrot fish and jacks to Sergeant Majors and grunts. I loved watching Trunkfish blow away the sand in search of food and to see pencil-like Trumpetfish hovering near fans. An octopus skittered around on its tentacles right beneath us one day, doing its best to blend in and in fact totally disappeared in front of our eyes. I loved the sense of floating through and above this parallel, aqueous universe. It was relaxing and awe inspiring at the same time.
It is exciting to me to find places where our corals are not badly damaged. I have seen many other areas where all of the corals are bleached or damaged by boat traffic. Only half of the world’s reefs could be currently regarded as in good health. Most reefs are at risk from both human activities and climate change. We have to take action to stop the destruction of these habitats and to slow climate change.
The beauty and intrigue of coral habitats are also their peril. I love to visit them. Yes aquaria are great, but there is something other-worldly about floating through these natural paradises. Did my presence endanger the corals that I came to see? I asked how close I should get to the coral. I was told not to use certain sunscreens and to never touch a coral. But I saw others walking on the coral reefs, just to get farther out to where they were less damaged. I wondered how you educate or regulate visitors to follow safe behaviors in such remote areas.
This is the classic argument of saving wilderness areas and limiting the types of access and the numbers of people who can enter an area. To save some of these wonders we do need to take action today to preserve what is remaining and to restore what we can. At the same time I strongly feel that to engage current and future generations in the debate, we all have to get outside and fall in love with our terrestrial and marine wonders. That is the only way that I know of to inspire a whole new generation of stewards.
Take-a-way: Encourage your family and friends to get outside, find a place nearby to visit often, and learn how best to take care of it.