by Tracy Rohland

Coral reefs are known as the “Rain forests of the Ocean.” Countless varieties of marine life depend on them for their survival. And as they are dwindling away, it is important that every person respect the reefs and do what they can to help. While one person cannot single-handedly reverse the effect of global warming, there are many small things you can do to reduce your personal impact on the reefs. According to Environmental Defense marine ecologist Rod Fujita, "Corals are sensitive but also very resilient – if conditions are right. If we can reduce some of the other direct stresses from human activities on coral reefs, like pollution from non-point sources, perhaps that may also enable reefs to cope better with indirect threats like climate change." Oceans Alive, a group dedicated to protecting and preserving marine ecosystems, suggests the following tips in regards to beach and ocean care.

  1. Keep the beach clean. Pick up after yourself -- and recycle, reduce and reuse. Help organize or join a beach clean-up day to remove trash and debris that can harm wild life.
  2. Follow marked paths to the beach, rather than walking across sensitive sand dunes and other natural shoreline areas that provide food and shelter for wildlife. The beach is a living ecosystem on which many plants and animals depend. Foot traffic erodes the sand and wears down vegetation that holds sand in place, degrading habitat.
  3. Follow regulations when you dispose of pollutants like automotive oil and antifreeze. Refrain from using pesticides and fertilizers in your yard. These wash into bays and estuaries and contribute to dead zones where there is barely any sea life left. Even if you live in a landlocked state, remember that your everyday actions affect what runs into rivers and streams and eventually ends up in the ocean.
  4. Get involved in local development and land use issues if you live on or near the coast, and make your voice heard. Building roads, hotels and housing developments in coastal areas often destroys coastal habitat and pollutes bays, estuaries and coastal wetlands -- ultimately reducing fish population in these areas.
  5. Educate yourself, your friends and family on how human actions can affect the shoreline environment. Learn about marine sea life and its habitat. Find out how human actions like beach dredging (often called "beach re-nourishment") can harm reefs and other fish habitats.
  6. Eco-tourism is a major industry in Hawaii and other coastal regions. It is important to be extra cautious in activities like diving and boating, especially around coral reefs. Oceans Alive advises the following: Get your diving certification. Two major certifying associations are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) -- both reputable organizations that teach eco-friendly diving practices. Learning to dive properly will allow you to enjoy the spectacular underwater scenery without damaging coral reefs and other sea life habitat.