Oceans and Coasts

Make Your Next Vacation Reef Friendly

"Reefs act as nurseries for fish, protect shorelines from storms and even generate the sand on beaches."

— Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy

By Kerry Crisley

Ah, winter. Snow, skiing, sledding, more snow, shoveling, yet even more snow…computer, travel deal, suitcase, beach. Ah, winter vacation.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, you’re likely one of the 23 million people who visited the Caribbean in the last year.

And if you glimpsed a cool-looking fish, ate a fantastic seafood dinner, or spent a peaceful day on a sandy beach during your stay, you can thank a coral reef.

“Coral reefs are just teeming with life – they’re among the most biologically-rich and productive places on earth,” says Mark Spalding, the Conservancy’s senior marine scientist. “Reefs act as nurseries for fish, protect shorelines from storms and even generate the sand on beaches.”

Spalding is a lead author of Reefs at Risk Revisited, a new report that provides a global analysis of the current state of our coral reefs.

According to the report, 75% of the world’s corals are in trouble. Reefs face a wide and intensifying array of local and global threats—including impacts from overfishing, coastal development, agricultural runoff, shipping and climate change.

So what’s a snorkel-lover to do? The Nature Conservancy is partnering with governments in island nations, local fishermen and coral reef managers both in the Caribbean and around the world to reduce threats and improve management. You can help, too…even while on vacation.

Before you go…

Look for reef-friendly businesses. Reefs at Risk found that overfishing — including destructive fishing — is the most pervasive local threat to coral reefs. Book your travel and activities with local vendors that work to protect coral reefs and other marine habitat. Many provide details of “green” efforts on their website. If not, ask about them.

While you’re there…

Snorkel! Coral reefs are vulnerable, but you can – and should – still enjoy them. And by working with local guides to get out and experience the reef, you are supporting a sustainable and reef-friendly local economy. However, it is important to take care while you’re out there; here are some tips to follow to maximize enjoyment and minimize impact.

  • Don’t anchor on the reef. Instead, use mooring buoy systems when they are available. When looking to join a scuba or snorkeling excursion, ask the operator how they plan to anchor.
  • “Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.” Keep your hands, fins and other gear away from the coral. As tempting as it is to stand on the reef to adjust your mask, the contact can hurt you and damage the coral. If a piece breaks off, it will take years to grow back.
  • Stay off the seafloor when near coral. The stirred-up sediment can settle on coral and smother it.
  • Don’t turn over rocks to see what’s under them. You may expose organisms or fish eggs that should remain hidden from predators.
When you get home…

Adopt a Reef. The Nature Conservancy is working to keep our healthiest reefs thriving, and to identify where and how we can bring degraded ones back to life. Add reef adoption to your wedding/baby registry or birthday wish list. Think no one will go for it? Watch a video to see what happened when 11-year old Bryan tried.

Choose sustainably-caught seafood whenever possible. If you live near the coast, check to see if there is a community-supported fishery (CSF) near you. Like buying a share in your farm, a CSF provides a bounty of fresh, locally-caught seafood.

Reduce your carbon footprint. Climate change is a threat to all corals, increasing the occurrences of coral bleaching around the world. Not sure how or where to start? Begin by assessing your current footprint with The Nature Conservancy’s carbon calculator.


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