Far from being just a bucket-list photo experience for holidaymakers, coral reefs are essential to the survival of billions of sea creatures. Dubbed “rainforests of the sea”, these beautiful, unique structures perform multiple roles – from allowing fish, sponges and crustaceans to flourish, to providing vital protection to shorelines.
These delicate, underwater worlds are the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on earth. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation estimates more than one billion people across 94 countries depend on coral reefs for their food and livelihoods, and that reefs house one quarter of all marine species.
Despite their importance, coral reefs are under threat. Plastics, toxic chemicals, climate change, overfishing and coral-eating creatures [the ‘crown-of-thorns starfish’ is so destructive, Google is developing an AI device to regulate them] mean that, globally, they are shrinking each year.
Tourism and industry can undeniably have a negative impact on coral reefs. But done well, they can actively support development and new growth. Here are some businesses which are working towards coral reef restoration.
Jewellery brand Washed Ashore supports the work of Coral Gardeners, a coral reef restoration programme in Tahiti French Polynesia. Scientists and volunteers nurse damaged coral clippings back to life and replant them onto living parts of the Mo’orea reef. These clippings latch onto the reef and develop naturally to become a habitat for fish and algae, as well as boosting water oxygenation. Washed Ashore adopts coral clippings on behalf of its customers: each jewellery piece comes with its own adoption certificate of a new piece of reef.
Private island resort Song Saa, nestled in the Koh Rong islands, Cambodia, is not just a haven for humans. The Song Saa team is busy planning an innovative artificial reef structure within its marine reserve, and is currently carrying out a scientific investigation to decide on the best design. The plan is to create 25 or more ‘reef pods’ made of concrete and metal. The pods will allow corals to build and establish their own natural habitat on top of the structures, nourishing and growing the local marine ecosystem.
Sunscreen use is a controversial topic within coral reef protection, with studies suggesting many of the chemicals used in conventional SPFs can be poisonous to reefs. The chemicals can reach corals either through close contact from swimmers and divers, or by running into water systems. Weleda’s products are formulated with mineral UV filters, rather than chemicals known to bleach or damage corals. We’ll be smoothing on their Edelweiss Sun Facial Lotion SPF 30 before stepping out into the sun or the sea this summer.