Our delicate coral reefs are simply magical. They bestow a gift of nature upon us to admire. This has been the custom for millions of years now.
For that very reason, we must make a conscientious effort to do our part to preserve and protect these living coral reef ecosystems with every dive that we make.
South Florida can proudly claim that it has one of the only coral barrier reefs that extends out about 6 miles paralleling the shoreline and spanning across the straits of the Florida Keys for approximately 158 miles. Fish, snails, crabs, lobster and sea turtles call the coral reefs their homes. That is why it is so essential to be cognizant of what could become endangered so easily without our constant awareness.
There are many important factors that contribute to keeping our coral reefs in a healthy state. Light provides photosynthesis which nourishes the bountiful reefs. Any condition that impedes the clarity of the waters, whether it be sediment or pollution, will also prevent healthy coral growth, and in turn, threaten much of our marine life such as succulent sea fans and salty sea whips also known as gorgonians or stag horn and brain coral.
We seem to be constantly reminded that damage is being done by not only global climate change, but by man, in less than miraculous ways. We drop anchors right in the middle of coral reefs, are guilty of boat groundings and prop dredging that destroy, our marine debris smothers and strangles the very marine life that ingests it, we become greedy fishermen, and worst of all we let our coral reefs take the punishment of sewage along with toxic discharge from boats and the agricultural runoff can sometimes be unmanageable.
As avid divers and snorkelers, we can help to make a difference these days. Think twice about diving in less than optimal conditions to reduce safe interaction with the reef. Try and keep a "hands off" motto. With even a slight touch of the reef's living organisms, damage could be done to the sensitive coral polyps. Snorkelers should never stand on the reef. Wear float coats which serve the purpose to keep you buoyant enough to adjust your gear without standing on the reef. Buoyancy control is one of the keys to keeping yourself off of the reef. Don't touch or collect marine life. It is important not to deplete our reefs.
The same points hold true for boaters and fishermen. Remember not to dump trash at sea. Just a small plastic bag can wreak havoc on our precious marine life and valuable reefs. Never discharge bilgewater at the reef. Use reef mooring buoys or an anchor in sandy areas away from the reefs. Consult tide and navigational charts to avoid damaging the reefs. If you run aground, turn the engine off and steer clear of shallow waters. Abide by the Florida Fishing Laws. Avoid wildlife disturbances, keep speeds down in the 'No Wake' zones and stay away from areas not meant for boats.
Sending out the message in a more global fashion is Reef Relief, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserving and protecting living coral reef ecosystems. Learn all about their current programs and how they are carrying out the mission as they convey this crucial message through their strategic efforts.
Coral reefs deserve protection for so many valuable reasons. They provide food, economic and tourism benefits, protection to the coastline from storms, support for indigenous communities, habitat for endangered species and overall, by saving the Coral Reefs, we improve our quality of life. So what are we waiting for? Let's get in and get on the road to Reef Relief.