Washing Our Hands of Coral Conservation

It’s just a vacation. A deserved rest in the sun. What beautiful sites there are to take in, to consume.

Coral Sunset-D.jpg

This sunset photograph was taken moments after a late afternoon dive on a reef. We were overwhelmed, and breathless as we breached the water’s surface in awe of diversity and beauty of marine life. And yet coral conservation weighed heavily on our conscience.

Five years earlier we visited this site for a solid day of snorkeling, and while we are now still treated to a living expo of colour, light, texture and drama, we are really just seeing shades of the reef’s former self. What happened? Climate change. Warmer water. More intense solar rays. Experts say it will destroy 90%+ of the reefs anyway. It’s really out of our control.

It’s still a little uncomfortable. Maybe there’s something we can do? I wonder. I hear a few others at the resort wonder. Something we’re doing wrong?

Many reef sections are now devoid of living coral. They are bleached coral skeletons. To see a fish or two is rare. That’s ok, we swim with dozens of others to the ‘better’ sections. Yes, with others. People. Lots of them, swimming. I can’t help to think of the definition of a zoo. A facility with usually outdoor settings where living, typically wild animals are kept especially for public exhibition. We witness and are a part of the ‘coral reef zoo.’ We can go right up to the ‘cage’, eye-ball the animals closely and then move on to see more. Unlike the zoo in the city, this one, we can actually impact the display. Thrashing, joyful human bodies miscalculating their zoo-going, crash against the exhibits. Learning, telling others, who in turn, learn their lessons by their own ‘minor’ mishaps.

As often the case, this place is loved so much it suffocates from the well-intention, but twisted intimacy we impart.

Wow! There are birds too! Wetland birds circle our resort several times a day. There’s no where to land. Herons, egrets, frigatebirds, pelicans. I research. I find that the resort used to be a wetland. Parts of an ancient mangrove swamp, that used to inextricably support this reef – maintain it – in a critical symbiosis now well understood. These former wetlands remain a part of these birds ancestral memories. Well….we didn’t know that part.

This Central American country is too poor. Too poor for conservation measures. Too poor for regulations. Too poor for nature protection. A few non-profits have stepped in. They face many pressures. They aim to protect remaining mangrove swamps. They can do virtually nothing about climate change. They can just make recommendations on how to use and avoid abusing these marine worlds of wonders. We watch as the recommendations do next to nothing for those of us seeing the sheer beauty in the water.

Are there other ways? Who is responsible? Can we let this slip away from our planet?

While we still revel in this tropical experience like an amazing dream we awake from, we almost don’t want return in five years time. It hurts too much. It says too much about what we know we must do, vs. what we chose not to do.

It’s just a vacation.

5 responses to “Washing Our Hands of Coral Conservation”

  1. You sure know how to ruin a perfectly wonderful vacation! JK! I see what you mean. I wonder now how I will start seeing things in all of the places I visit. It is a heavy burden to bear, for sure. I am sure it will not be a challenge to see the beauty, even past the sadness of what is lost. Maybe it is lost for now, but the ebb and flow of nature isn’t always permanent and we can always, but not naively, hope for resilience.


    1. Some good suggestions above. How practical do you think they are clkthomson?


  2. christine bishop Avatar
    christine bishop

    1. If one is going to go on a vacay in the south never stay at a resort and subsidize their massive destruction of habitats, low paying jobs and massive food waste. Staying a small family run hotels set back from the beach front will probably be far more culturally interesting, support local businesses, and doesn’t support multi national conglomerates who destroy mangroves and sea turtle nesting beaches.
    2. be aware of the impact of sunblock on fish and other aquatic animals. Don’t go in water with sunblock on. Or wear a wet suit or bathing cap in water to avoid sunburn.
    3. reduce energy use at home. carbon credits for flights?

    enjoy your next holiday.


    1. That’s what I like to hear. We did get some nice sunblock that was reef friendly. Bathing caps would be funny as anything but willing to give a try. Family run hotels? Those would be interesting to try to track down and not get Montezuma’s revenge. All this I think requires a fair bit of further discussion as it seems we’d be leaving out thousands of people who wouldn’t do this. Yes, you’ve gotta start somewhere…and create a trend. In the meantime, these resorts are there. Impacts are still be incurred and it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks for all the ideas Christine.


  3. Thank you, Ben! Very thoughtful…


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