Today marks the first ever World Reef Day.
Here’s how to help make sure we’re still celebrating in 2050.

A bleached reef. Photo by The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

A bleached reef. Photo by The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey


Coral reefs are among the most vital habitats on the planet, but they’re in trouble. By 2050, the planet could lose 90% of these ‘undersea rainforests’ due to climate change and other factors. Reefs are relied on by 25% of all marine creatures and half a billion people, but scientists are still unlocking their secrets.

Just this week, researchers finally unravelled the ‘Darwin Paradox’ surrounding these essential marine ecosystems. As the famous naturalist observed on his long ocean voyages, tropical waters are nutrient-poor but home to teeming coral reefs awash with life. Previous theories looked at how reefs shape water currents and trap nutrients, but new research suggests it’s actually tiny ‘cryptobenthic’ fish like gobies and blennies (like the little guy below) hiding in reef crevices that make them so vibrant.

Feeding off algae, coral mucus and tiny crustaceans, these micro-fish breed prolifically and provide an endless source of snacking material for larger reef residents. One researcher compared them to colorful bowls of gummi bears that other species can graze on, or in science-speak: “an overwhelming abundance of cryptobenthic larvae fuels reef trophodynamics via rapid growth and extreme mortality, producing almost 60% of consumed reef fish biomass.”

Most coral reefs alive today have existed for thousands of years, but today they’re under unprecedented pressure from rising ocean temperatures and acidification, plastic pollution, agricultural run-off, tourism and other threats. The next 30 years will be key. Here are five things you can do to help…

Header image by Brook Peterson. This image by David P Robinson.

Header image by Brook Peterson. This image by David P Robinson.


Cut your carbon

The single greatest threat to coral reefs is the ever-rising level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, for two reasons. First, rising global temperatures mean rising ocean temperatures, which leads to coral bleaching. Beyond absorbing this heat, the oceans also react with CO2 to form more acidic sea water, which can dissolve coral structures. Here are 101 ways to reduce your emissions.


Take only photos

When you visit a part of the planet blessed with coral reefs, avoid any and all souvenirs from the ocean – coral and other marine life belongs on the reef, not some dusty shelf. When snorkelling and scuba diving, never touch coral reefs or reef animals, and be careful not to let your fins damage their delicate structures. We all love reefs – let’s not love them to death.


Use mineral sunscreen

Most sunscreens contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate and triclosan. These chemicals wash off when you swim or shower, travelling through storm drains and sewage systems to the oceans. A 2015 study found it only takes a tiny amount of oxybenzone-containing sunscreen—the equivalent of one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools—to cause serious damage to a coral reef. Learn more and look for mineral-based sunscreens.



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