Climate Change and Coral Reefs

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Now that the weather has stabilised, we are enjoying wonderful dives again at Sail Rock, Anghton Marine Park and Koh Tao, yet I remember the unusual weather we had last January, which let many tourists down. Their frustration was understandable. They came to Thailand expecting sunshine, without considering an unwanted consequence of their own lifestyle: climate change.

Such abnormal weather events occurring all over the world are becoming more frequent but there is plenty we can do as consumers to tackle climate change and protect coral reefs. Here are my top tips for how we can help.

Why should divers care?

As divers, we are engaged in a leisure activity that immerses us in a magnificent environment: the ocean. Coral reefs are among our favourite sites and they have a crucial role in the conservation of our atmosphere. Just like rain forests, they take up carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Marine life such as corals, sponges, algae and molluscs are part of this process and must be conserved.

The reefs we observe and enjoy are literally carbon dioxide stores, where an amount of carbon dioxide 40,000 greater than that contained in the atmosphere is retained. The absorption and release of carbon dioxide from these reefs occurs continuously to keep the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere constant – preserving the environmental conditions in which we live.

The amount of carbon dioxide being released by humankind now is far greater than that absorbed within the ocean and forests. Because of this, the ocean is becoming more acidic and coral reefs are beginning to dissolve. If this continues, the system that stabilises our atmosphere could eventually collapse.

Why should divers care?

Because by acting to limit climate change we are not only protecting the dive sites we enjoy, we are also ensuring the future of the environment we rely upon.

Here are some top tips for how we can each reduce the impacts of climate change and protect coral reefs:

Check your product labels for CFCs

CFCs have been used for decades in products such as refrigerators and household sprays and are responsible for destroying a considerable part of the ozone layer. CFC production has been reduced in recent years but it has not yet been banned. Be sure to check product information before purchasing any item that may contain CFCs and choose sustainable alternatives.

Consider going meat-free

Methane and nitrous oxide gases are livestock by-products that have a greater impact on the atmosphere than the emissions produced by transport worldwide. We can help limit these emissions simply by going meat-free on occasion or permanently.

Choose renewable energy sources

As the human population continues to grow, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere and climate change becomes a bigger problem. Another way we, as consumers, can limit the use of natural resources and the release of carbon dioxide is by choosing renewable energy sources for our homes. There are plenty of options available for us to choose from.

Become a volunteer

Many events are currently threatening coral reefs; including water pollution, land reclamation, overfishing and climate change. Any action that can help protect them is important. As divers, we should be enthusiastically committed to such tasks; supporting reef conservation projects, promoting clean-up campaigns and collecting marine debris. Check your local dive clubs and marine conservation groups to get involved.

Say no to plastics

Plastics may be cheap to produce and used worldwide but they have an enormous impact upon the ocean. Plastic pollution is now a global, well-known problem. Try limiting your use of plastics by saying no to plastic bags, single-use bottles and straws. Instead, use reusable fabric bags for your shopping and choose glass bottles that can be washed and refilled. Go one step further and challenge yourself to go plastic-free for one month.

The greater the number of people caring for the environment, the higher the chances of reverting the destructive trend we have created. If we take inspiration from the beauty of the underwater world in which we dive, we can become inspiring leaders working to protect nature.

Let’s keep on diving enthusiastically, enjoying the amazing colours of our reefs, and taking action to protect them. Let us offer future generations the same chance of the beautiful environment we enjoy.

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About Author

I was born in Milano and grew up enjoying the beautiful countryside and beaches of Tuscany. My deep enchantment with the sea started then and I soon became a sailing instructor and learnt to scuba dive. After working in African and South-American countries in International Cooperation for Development, I took a career break to complete a degree in marine science and became a PADI and CMAS scuba diving instructor. Living in Borneo, I now teach scuba diving and share my knowledge of marine ecology and conservation. My aim is to spread environmental awareness to help others care for the environment more.

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