We Can Save the Coral

June 03, 2016

We Can Save the Coral

One of the amazing organizations that Beastly Threads supports, Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), is doing everything in its power to restore coral reefs in the Florida Keys and Caribbean. I got the chance to ask Ashley Hill of CRF some questions about their work, the sunscreen vs. coral controversy, and what global leaders need to do before the planet's reefs are gone forever.

Beastly Threads (BT): The global decline of coral reefs is really scary.  What makes you hopeful that the reefs can be saved?
Ashley Hill (AH): The work being done at Coral Restoration Foundation gives me hope. Our organization is working diligently to understand causes of not only local, but global coral reef decline. Over the next few years, CRF is honing our efforts to fully restore several reefs throughout the Florida Keys. The reefs of the keys were once iconic dive sites with impressive stands of elkhorn and staghorn coral. Due to warming waters, increased pollution, and physical damage, the reefs have experienced dramatic declines and are now ideal candidates for our restoration efforts. Working with NOAA and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, CRF will begin to fully restore several reefs. This type of effort informs international projects. Criteria for reef restoration can transcend a singular area to be useful across the globe.

BT: Do you ever collaborate with and/or share strategies with coral restoration groups in other parts of the world?
AH: CRF has several network partners. Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire and Coral Restoration Foundation Curacao are two examples. Our partners conduct reef restoration in their areas under our guidance and training. Further international expansion is on the horizon. We are looking to work alongside other Caribbean countries to share our techniques for nursery development, outplanting, and data collection.

BT: There have been reports in the news about sunscreen playing a role in the bleaching of coral reefs. Can you tell us more about this?
AH: Coral bleaching is a symptom of a myriad of issues. The symbiotic algae that lives in the tissue of the corals is critical to their health. When water temperatures are too high or too low we often see the symptom of corals bleaching. Basically, they lose the symbiotic algae and appear a white color. Not all is lost in the case of bleaching, corals can recover if conditions improve. Since so many people want to observe reefs first hand while either diving or snorkeling, the addition of sunscreen’s chemicals is inevitable. The oxybenzone in many sunscreens can increase coral’s susceptibility to bleaching, cause DNA damage, effect skeletal growth, and cause deformities in young corals. (NOAA)

BT: We can’t stop wearing sunscreen given the threat of skin cancer.  What can individuals and families do to protect their skin AND protect the coral?
AH: For me, I make the conscious choice to use sunscreens WITHOUT chemicals that are harmful to the oceans and corals. Sunscreens with exclusively titanium oxide or zinc oxide are better to use. These are sometimes easier to order online than find in a grocery store. Be aware—some reef safe sunscreens still contain harmful chemicals. If you see anything on the active ingredients label that isn't titanium oxide or zinc oxide, it is not ok to be in the water with the corals. Finally—the best way to protect the corals is to cover up with physical barriers like rash guards or skins. These protect you from the sun without the use of sunscreens.

BT: If you had the ear of global leaders, what three steps would you ask them to take to save the coral?
AH: 1) Work to treat the ocean like the earth. Establish marine protected areas and conservation areas. We have a great model in National Parks and National Forests. 2) Empower and enable people to take care of the oceans. Right now it is challenging for environmentally conscious practices to be universal. Recycling, composting, and waste management is not achievable in all parts of the world. 3) Share the message. I find that many people are still unaware of what’s happening with our oceans.

BT: Thanks Ashley for all that you and the CRF team do!

Support the work of CRF by purchasing a Beastly Threads Staghorn scarf.  Get one here!


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