We all love to see beautiful healthy corals when we are diving so it is important that we protect them. In order to do this we first need to understand the importance of coral, how it is formed and how it is effected by humans.
Coral reefs are made up of and built by tiny little animals called Coral Polyps. These polyps take calcium and bicarbonate from the sea water and use it to build their calcium carbonate (limestone) skeletons. Most polyps are clear with white “bone like” skeletons. Corals are given their vibrant colours by tiny algae that lives inside their tissues. The polyps and algae help each other to survive. The coral gives the algae protection and the products it needs to photosynthesize. The algae produces oxygen and many other compounds which allows the coral to grow. They work together to recycle nutrients from the sea water. They need each other to survive.
Coral reefs not only look amazing, they play a hugely important role in our ecosystem. They cover just 1% of the world’s ocean floor yet they are home to over 25% of the marine life. They provide millions of people with food, medicine and protection from storms.
It is important to understand that the only growing part of coral is on the tips and edges. Therefore the area’s most vulnerable to damage by divers are the growing areas. In some species of coral it takes as long as 1 year to grow just 1 centimetre. Just think, one clumsy movement from a diver can snap away hundreds of years of growth from coral.
The major culprits for reef damage from diving are those with bad buoyancy and underwater photographers trying to get a shot of those amazing little macro creatures.
What happens when divers touch or damage the reef?
- Touching/breaking the coral removes its protective layer
- The algae leave the coral
- Marine and human bacteria enter the coral causing infections
- Large amounts of energy are required to regenerate the lost coral but this cannot be made without the algae
- The coral dies within days
- The home of many marine species is lost
Coral reefs are also threatened by other factors such as over fishing, water pollution, unsustainable tourism and coastal developments.
It has become apparent that many divers going to Nusa Penida are not respecting the corals and are often seen climbing over corals, kicking them and breaking them. Nusa Penida is known to have some of the healthiest corals in Bali. Keep in mind that it is the reefs that bring the small reef fish which in turn bring in the bigger marine life such as the famous Mola Mola. If divers continue to disrespect the corals around Bali, the damage may be irreversible and future generations of divers will not get to see the amazing things that we do.
As divers we are responsible for protecting our oceans and corals. Please keep in mind when you are next diving how vulnerable our reef is.
Bad buoyancy can easily be improved by taking the Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty. Not only will you be able to dive easily beside the reef without touching it, you will also learn to conserve more air which will lengthen your dive times. If you are a photographer and struggle to get the shots that you want without holding on to the reef, why not take the PADI Digital Underwater Photography specialty and learn how to get the best photos with minimal contact.
As mentioned, 25% of the planets marine life rely on our coral reefs to survive, so let’s make a conscious effort to avoid touching and damaging our corals.