Washing Our Hands of Coral Conservation

by | Mar 23, 2017 | 0 comments

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

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.


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