Joint post by Justin Baumann and Serena Hackerott
The main goal of UNdertheC is to make science accessible and interesting to the general public. Recently, there has been a discussion on Coral List following a plea from a coral scientist for the diving industry to be more aware and active against threats to coral reefs. We thought it might be beneficial to outline some of these threats and provide some reasonable suggestions for how dive operations, recreational divers, and any concerned individuals can get involved in protecting coral reefs. We are aware that the larger issues (warming, acidification, etc..) are worldwide in scope, but reduction of local stressors can go a long way in preventing reef degradation.
1.) Policing plastics
Plastics can harm marine life when animals mistakenly ingest or choke on small fragments or become entangled in larger pieces. Lighter plastics can also become entangled around and smother coral. However, reducing the amount of plastics in the ocean is quite easy. First, you can try to limit your use of plastics. Unfortunately, plastics are hard to avoid today, though, so when you do use them, dispose of them properly, recycling if possible. You can also make a local impact against plastic pollution. The next time you are walking along a beach or diving on a reef, pick up the plastics that you see. You can also start or get involved in a local clean-up program like Debris Free Bonaire that we highlighted in an earlier post.
2.) Banishing Ghost Nets
Ghost nets refer to discarded fishing nets that have been lost from fishing vessels and left in the ocean. While these nets are no longer being operated by fishermen, they are still catching and killing many marine organisms. Although the average person might not be able to prevent these ghost nets from being left on reefs, recreational divers can certainly help reduce their effect on marine life. The next time you are diving and see disregarded fishing gear on a reef, try to remove it so it can be disposed of properly. Just be careful not to break any coral that the net might be tangled around and also make sure you don’t get tangled yourself! Try using a dive knife to cut the net away rather than pulling it and also have a dive buddy around to prevent any accidents. You can also check out groups like Ghostfishing.org for more information and ways to get involved on this “ghost hunt.”
3.) Tame the Lionfish Invasion
We have discussed lionfish and their negative impacts quite a bit here on UNdertheC during our Marine Monsters Series and on last week’s Photography Friday. Luckily, lionfish are pretty easy to spear and they taste great! Dive companies and recreational divers can help control invasive lionfish by spearing lionfish during dives and competing in lionfish derbies. There are derbies all around the Caribbean and Eastern US regions and most have pretty awesome prizes like dive gear, T-shirts, and gift certificates to the local beach bar! You can also promote restaurants that serve lionfish and order lionfish when it is on the menu. It tastes just like snapper or grouper and is much better for the reef! Check out the REEF Lionfish Project for more info.
4.) Watch Your Step
Unfortunately, the reefs we love to dive on are often the most at risk to harm from people touching, kicking, and stepping on coral. Even though most of these incidents are accidental, this contact is extremely harmful to coral. The good new is, this damage is completely avoidable. Never step on coral. Some may look like rocks but they are actually living animals that are very fragile. When you are walking out to a shore dive or snorkel, look before you step! Also, always be aware of your fins when diving. Keep a stable buoyancy and don’t get too close to coral, especially when there is a current. If you see another diver accidently kicking coral, respectfully let them know so that they can also be aware. Lastly, try not to touch corals. Many divers will put a hand down to stabilize themselves to take photos, but you can instead put a finger on a spot of dead coral rather than the living animal that is so important for those great underwater photos.
Coral health is directly related to overall reef health. Due to climate change stress events are increasing in frequency and intensity. Simple monitoring programs like “coralwatch” have been created to provide a way for divers to record the status of reefs that they dive. How easy is it? Check out this video:
All you need is a dive slate and a “coralwatch” color board. You simply observe the pigmentation of a coral and record the associated number on the sheet. This is something that almost any diver can do. Similar programs are available through Reefcheck.