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Protecting our coral reefs from bleaching

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As time goes on, we are experiencing colder winters, much warmer summers and more drastic and uncharacteristic temperatures across the world, along with earthquakes in areas that have never felt the ground move beneath them before. The impacts of all these natural events have been startling.

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Not only do we suffer from these dramatic climate changes, but our coral reefs continue to suffer as well from global warming. In January, local communities worldwide, got together in a workshop setting with government agencies to try and develop a plan to bring back the beauty to our coral reefs that have been damaged and scarred from mass bleaching as a result of global warming.

A large concern was not only how we should try to reverse the damage, but how can we prevent it in the future. Representatives from areas ripe with marine tourism trade felt compelled by the urgency of the issue at hand, to participate. Malaysia, Thailand, Aceh, Bali and Lombok are all dive destinations longing to maintain the magic of their reefs.

“It is predicted that coral bleaching incidents could become more severe and frequent, as seawater temperatures have continued to increase significantly,” said Scott Heron, marine physicist from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch.

So what exactly is coral bleaching? It is a condition brought about when corals lose their algal symbion due to stress, similar to when humans become ill from the rigors of stress. The tissue of the coral becomes transparent, and over time, the corals starve to death.

Many good ideas and action plans were formulated that should bring relief if they can be quickly implemented. Naneng Setiasih of the Coral Reef Alliance, an organization working tirelessly to save our reefs, suggested establishing a 'response committee' that would be quick to take action. Other suggestions included improving engagement, communication and coordination between the local communities, businesses, NGO's and governments as a means of effective coral reef management.

If bleaching is spotted, it might be beneficial to limit the amount of scuba divers and snorkelers allowed to be in that particular area. Dive operators need to play an active role in maintaining the reefs, training and educating others on reef management. It could also mean developing and implementing codes of conduct and certification programs for divers, dive operators, snorkel guides and other marine tourism businesses.

Making sure that these ideas come to fruition is key to curing the coral bleaching problem of our oceans. Corals in the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Phillippines, the Maldives and even sections of East Africa have been unfortunately affected. Between 1997 and 1998, 16% of the world's reefs were destroyed as a result of bleaching, the worst year ever in a period of 700 years.

Half the battle is building on an awareness program and educating others, so many divers and marine enthusiasts can participate extensively, volunteering and doing their part to restore the endless beauty to the coral reefs, nature at its finest.

Check out Coral Reef Alliance for volunteer opportunities and to learn more.