The ocean is where I find peace. It is the one place where nothing else exists. It is not only my profession but more importantly my passion. Dive in with me. Observe the vibrant colours of the rainforests of the oceans. Look at the value hidden under the deep blue. Become one. Relax. Rejuvenate. Resurface.
Now take another conscious breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. And take a second deep breath – breathe in and breathe out. You can thank tiny marine organisms called plankton for that second breath you just took. Oceans are the lungs of the planet and produce over 70 per cent of the oxygen in the atmosphere that we breathe.
Let’s swim to shore. Feel the sand beneath your toes, sit on the beach and reflect. That very sand that you just sat on was created by parrotfish poop. Pardon me? Come again! Yes please – part of our beautiful white sandy beaches are created by parrotfish jobby! Parrotfish (locally known as chubs) are grazers, acting as lawnmowers of the seas, eating algae off coral reefs, keeping them healthy and creating sand during excretion.
So far, we have learnt that much of our oxygen and many of our beaches exist thanks to coral reefs. That’s not all! Healthy coral reefs provide a range of goods and services and are of great value contributing to coastline protection, food, fisheries, jobs, employment and livelihoods, recreation and tourism.
Corals are extremely ancient living animals that all share the same simple structure, the polyp. There are over 6,000 known species existing that include sea fans and anemones. Coral reefs are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems providing food and shelter for approximately one quarter of all ocean species. Corals can be male or female or both, and can reproduce sexually or asexually.
Corals are found across the world’s oceans, in both shallow and deep water, with reef-building corals found only in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. The algae found in their tissues need light for photosynthesis and water temperatures between 22-29°C (70-85°F) that allows them to produce calcium carbonate necessary for reef formation.
Despite their great economic and recreational value, coral reefs in Barbados, the Caribbean and the world are severely threatened by a combination of factors, including land based sources of pollution (mainly from nutrient loading in groundwater due to domestic waste, sewage and agricultural runoff) as well as impacts of plastic pollution; overfishing and destructive fishing (including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing); habitat destruction and marine degradation (often due to unsustainable coastal development & associated practices); climate change causing warming and bleaching events as well as changing ocean chemistry such as acidification as well as the introduction of invasive species such as the lionfish.
Most of these threats are anthropogenic and exacerbated by us humans. Although a combination of stressors act on coral reefs, not all hope is lost. They are resilient animals and there are small things that you (yes you reading this whether you are eight, 18 or 80) can do daily to help conserve and protect coral reefs:
· Be conscious consumers and choose sustainable seafood such as the invasive lionfish. Say ‘No thanks’ to parrotfish (chubs) and sharks which help to maintain balance in the marine ecosystem
· Support and respect marine managed and protected areas
· Ditch the disposable lifestyle and make an effort to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost)
· Don’t leave your trash on the beach (a clear plastic bag can be mistaken as food by a turtle and could end up killing it)
· Don’t use chemically enhanced pesticides & fertilizers (what happens on land ends up in the sea)
· Wear ocean friendly sunscreen brands (Sunscreen washes off swimmers’ bodies and endangers coral health. A sunscreen chemical called benzophenone-2 (BP-2) is highly toxic to coral).
· Practice safe and responsible diving, snorkeling and boating. Look, admire and enjoy your surroundings but please do not touch, feed, step on, handle, chase or ride anything (Even slight contact with coral can harm the polyps and actions such as touching and chasing. For example, sea turtles may stress the animal, interrupt natural behaviour or provoke aggressive behaviour)
· Do not purchase items that exploit marine life, such as coral jewellery, turtle shell (illegal) and shark products
· Corals are already a gift; don’t give them as presents.
We are more connected to the oceans than we know. They are the heart and lungs of our blue planet. From the air that we breathe to the fish that we eat and the many jobs provided, the rainforests of the oceans, once teeming with life and diversity are under attack. Our oceans and reefs do so much for us so it is time that we do more for them!
If it weren’t for coral reefs, there would be no island of Barbados. There would be no coastal protection, no fish, no beaches, no jobs, no tourism. Take a moment, take a deep breath and let that sink in.