Why We Care About Coral Reefs

Why We Care About Coral Reefs

So you’re not a scuba diver. Maybe reefs are miles away. Perhaps you get seasick just looking at the water. You still need to care about the coral reefs! Why? While not everyone benefits from the beauty of the coral reefs, the reefs’ benefits extend to millions.

Protection and health depend on coral reefs

Barrier reefs are just that—a natural barrier that protects the shore line. Waves break apart on the coral reefs, reducing their impact on beaches and coastal cities. Simulated research even suggests that a sufficiently wide barrier reef within a meter or two of the surface could reduce run-up on the land from a tsunami by 50 percent.[x]

That means if we lose reefs, a tsunami could have twice the impact in those areas! Beyond the reefs’ physical ability to offer protection, coral reefs are called the medicine cabinets of the sea. They are important sources of new medicines being used to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses and other diseases.[xi]

Dolphin by the coral reefDiversity keeps our options open

Once a living organism is gone, it’s gone. Keeping all life alive keeps our options alive.[i] Suppose the sea grass that thrives near a reef disappears. What if that sea grass contained the cure for some terrible disease? Penicillin comes from mold—stranger things have happened![ii]

Who knows what we might discover? Coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine species, and an abundance of plant life.[iii] That’s a lot of options, but reefs are disappearing twice as fast as rainforests![iv]

Coral reefs effect our wallets

Diversity also has a positive economic value. There are more types of fish in a two-acre area of coral than types of birds in all of North America.[v] This abundance of life causes other life to thrive. Reefs provide food and resources for more than 500 million people in 94 countries and territories.[vi]

Coral reefs have an annual global economic value of $375 billion.[vii] Here in the U.S., commercial value of fisheries from coral reefs alone is over $100 million a year.[viii] Reefs are also a source of billions of dollars from tourism for the coastal communities they surround.[ix] Money changes hands rapidly, so even if you’ve never seen a reef, you likely benefit from by their existence in some fashion.

We need to act now to protect the coral reefs

Healthy coral and bleached coral reefsSeveral things are effecting the reefs and, while not all of them have an easy solution, one easy thing we can all do is switch to a reef-safe, biodegradable sunscreen like Hawaii Medicinal. Chemical sunscreens are having a dramatic impact on coral reefs. A single ounce of chemical sunscreen product can contaminate 114 million gallons of ocean water. This can ultimately kill the coral reefs and all the life that depends on them. When you consider 14,000 tons of chemical sunscreen reach the reefs every year, you can see why we need to act now![xii]


What we’re doing to help the reefs

The state of Hawaii is blazing a trail, and we’re getting involved! Hawaiian senators Espero, English, Chang and others introduced a bill in January to ban reef-harming sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone from being used or sold in marine life conservation districts. The bill also requires anyone operating in a marine life district to inform their customers that the use of those chemicals are harmful to coral reefs and are prohibited from use.

At Hawaii Medicinal, we have provided our testimony in favor of the bill, along with our support. And we have good news! The bill is making its way through the legislative process. It passed the Senate and crossed over to the House of Representatives. There, it was referred to three separate committees. In a unanimous vote, it passed the Energy and Environmental Protection (EEP) Committee. It also passed the Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs (OMH) Committee. Now it will move on to the Consumer Protection and Commerce (CPC)/Finance and (FIN) Committee.

If it passes all three committees, it will move on to the floor of the House of Representatives. There, they can make edits and small changes. Those changes then go back to the Conference Committee to approve. If all goes well, it will go to Governor Ige for approval, and then become official. You can follow the bill’s progress here:

Oxybenzone Ban Bill Status

This is a long process, but all journeys begin with a small step—and in this case, the hope of an even smaller footprint!

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[i] https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED315280

[ii] https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/flemingpenicillin.html

[iii] http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/06/13/losing-our-coral-reefs/

[iv] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070807-coral-loss.html

[v] http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/top-25-coral-reef-facts.php

[vi] http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/06/13/losing-our-coral-reefs/

[vii] http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/06/13/losing-our-coral-reefs/

[viii] http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/foundations/coral/side.html

[ix] http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/foundations/coral/side.html

[x] https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/bibliography/related_files/cmk0601.pdf

[xi] http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=819&year=2017

[xii] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/20/450276158/chemicals-in-sunscreen-are-harming-coral-reefs-says-new-study