By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Across the globe, coral reefs are dying – some of the first casualties of the climate change catastrophe.
David Obura, chair of the Coral Specialist Group in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature predicts, as reported by the Guardian in Next generation ‘may never see the glory of coral reefs’:
“Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory. Today’s reefs have a history going back 25 million to 50 million years and have survived tectonic collisions, such as that of Africa into Europe, and India into Asia. Yet in five decades we have undermined the global climate so fundamentally that in the next generation we will lose the globally connected reef system that has survived tens of millions of years.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered from bleaching, caused by warming ocean waters; damage from invasive species, such as the crown of thorns starfish; and destruction from worsening weather patterns (see Cumulative Stress Impairs Great Barrier Reef Recovery).
Over to the Guardian again:
“Coral bleaching events are growing so severe and so frequent around the planet that reef systems are fragmenting into isolated pockets,” said Obura. “Some of these will undoubtedly survive this century, but the highest scientific evidence tells us that, unless we do everything to limit warming to 1.5C, we will lose 99% of the world’s coral reefs in coming decades.”
Eleven of the 29 World Heritage reefs have already suffered bleaching. On current trends, UNESCO predicts this will rise to 25 by 2040.
More widely, at highest risk are reefs off of Saudi Arabia, Madagascar, Hawaii and Papua New Guinea, which are likely to suffer bleaching long before the global average 2043. Those with a greater – though still slim – prospect of survival may be off of Egypt, Australia (including the Great Barrier Reef), Cuba, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Plastics also also damaging these reefs (see Plastics Sicken Coral Reefs). Alas, the current response to that problem is to place undue reliance on the recycling fairy, instead of a serious effort to stop producing – and using – unnecessary plastics, particularly of the single-use variety (see Plastic Watch: Five Flaws in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Plan and Plastic Watch: Recycling Woes).
These problems appear to be overwhelming and I’ve seen little evidence that political leaders are willing to adopt policies that might save at least some portions of these reefs. It saddens me to realize that in the future, no one will be able to climb to the top of the hill in Cooktown, Queensland – as I once did – and see a version of the same vista that Captain James Cook saw, when his ship, HMS Endeavour, foundered on the reef in 1770. Cook beached the vessel for nearly two months to conduct repairs necessary to enable him to sail her back to Batavia (now known as Jakarta). To me, the reef was an awesome natural phenomenon; to Cook, it loomed as a treacherous obstacle to navigate before ship and sailors could continue their journey.
A Small Step
The subject of this post is a modest initiative launched by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the world’s largest scuba diving training and certification group, and British conservation charity Reef-World Foundation, to support the Green Fins scheme. This initiative is intended to mitigate the impact of recreational diving on already-stressed coral reefs and to make sustainable diving practices the social norm.
Globally, diving and snorkelling is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors, and PADI has certified about 25 million divers. Other certification bodies also exist, most notably, Scuba Schools International.
As the Guardian reports in Diving force: experts join forces to save the world’s coral reefs:
A number of studies have linked the rise of such tourism in developing counties and under-managed coastal regions to coral disease.
Novice divers, of whom there are an one and a half million a year, pose the biggest threat to corals, particularly in tourist hotspots, according to [James Harvey, operations manager at Reef-World International].
“Novice divers dive in an upright manner, with their fins down,” he said. “They kick up sediment and corals use a lot of energy to clean themselves, which makes them vulnerable to climate change and disease.”
New divers tend to have problems managing underwater buoyancy, whereas more experienced divers have developed skills that enable them to avoid bashing into and thus damaging the reefs. The Green Fins guidelines aren’t limited only to the behavior of divers, but also cover anchoring practices — which also can severely damage reefs – and other issues, including the use of single use plastics by dive centers.
Member dive centres are checked annually against a 15-point code of conduct, aimed at reducing the risk to corals. Nine countries and 550 centres, mainly in south-east Asia, have already signed up.
Through the Padi partnership, Reef-World hopes to expand the scheme and is already working with partners in the Dominican Republic and involved in talks with Egypt, according to the UN.
Jerker Tamelander, the head of the UN Environment coral unit, based in Bangkok, said: “Based on research we’ve done we have reduced the environmental footprint of more than 500 dive centres in Asia. This partnership is set to raise the sustainability bar of the diving industry and will help establish environmentally friendly diving as the new norm.”
Effective Sustainable Diving Initiatives Require Local Community Participation
The involvement of local communities is necessary to promote sustainable diving initiatives to preserve the health of coral reefs. My late Norwegian friend, Renee Sørensen, showed how this could be done on the Maldivian island of Maafushi, which she made her home until she died earlier this year, of dengue fever, as I wrote in Dengue on My Mind: Spending on ‘Diseases of Poverty’ Not Enough to Create Effective Vaccines. Renee founded:
an eco-diving operation, which in addition to promoting more ecologically responsible diving, launched efforts to clean up and preserve beach and reef systems, and especially, to involve local children and teach them to understand and appreciate the environment in which they live.
Rather than despairing at the threats to the island she had made her home– waste, plastic, and reef destruction caused by global warming and a tsunami– Renee focused instead on solutions, enlisting locals and visitors alike to fix these problems.
I am well aware that the Green Fins scheme is a meager response to a series of dire, complicated problems. But with Renee’s example in mind, I think it important not to despair completely, and start somewhere.
Both Thailand and Egypt have imposed temporary restrictions on scuba diving in some locales in order to allow ecosystems to recover. An unfortunate alternative, if diving were to be banned or seriously restricted permanently in some of the worst-affected places, is that locals might turn to other ways of earning money from reefs – such as dynamite fishing, which produces immediate income but destroys the reefs and their surrounding ecosystems, immediately. And once gone, they’re gone forever.