Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


A coral’s basic needs are simple: clear, temperate water; the elimination of poisons such as cyanide and excessive nutrient runoff; protection from fishermen, tourists, and boaters; and limits on coastal development.

Last year, activists declared 1997 the International Year of the Reef, launching a global public education campaign. Today, campaigns for responsible tourism and other “good reef practices” (such as placing mooring buoys in reef waters to prevent damage from heavy anchors) abound:

  • Contrary to popular wisdom, old ships, cars, and bicycles dumped into the ocean to serve as artificial reefs don’t foster coral growth (the iron actually stimulates algae growth). Reef Ball Development Group, based in Sarasota, Fla., has instead created reef balls, concrete structures with a pH level that corals prefer and a “Swiss cheese” design to allow young fish multiple escape routes from predators.

  • The Philippine fishing industry has lost more than 125,000 jobs due to reef degradation from cyanide fishing. The chemical stuns fish, enabling live capture for restaurants and aquarium retailers, but kills corals. In response, the International Marinelife Alliance established a government-endorsed, cyanide-free export certification program (similar to dolphin-safe tuna programs) in 1992. The program, which gives fishermen a higher price for cyanide-free fish, has decreased cyanide use by 40 percent.

  • Once a year when the corals spawn at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a half-dozen University of Texas divers descend to collect the bounty. Researchers take about 1,000 eggs and sperm and grow them on ceramic tiles in stainless steel racks bolted to the reef, where the test-tile babies begin forming colonies. Scientists hope to transfer them onto the reef to replace dying corals.

  • Off the coast of India in the Maldive Islands, marine scientist Thomas Goreau and architect Wolf Hilbertz are developing a technology to grow reefs by sending a low-voltage electrical current through the water. This lowers the acidity level, making it easier for corals to deposit limestone.

  • An experiment with sea grass in Florida’s Tampa Bay bodes well for corals. Huge increases in nitrogen levels from sewage runoff led to a 40 percent loss of sea grass, which, like corals, performs a vital role in near-shore waters and can be choked by blooming algae. Community groups pressured the state to enact tough water-quality standards, and within three years algae concentrations dropped dramatically. Today the bay is gaining 500 acres of sea grass a year.

    —Kate Rope

    RESOURCES:

    Coral Reef Alliance 64 Shattuck Square, Suite 220, Berkeley, CA 94704; (510) 848-0110; www.coral.org (For free information, call 888-CORAL-REEF.)

    Global Coral Reef Alliance Dr. Tom Goreau, 324 Bedford Road, Chappaqua, NY 10514; (914) 238-8788.

    International Marinelife Alliance, P.O. Box 12648, Ortigas Center Post Office; Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines 1600; (632) 631-4993; imaphil@mnl.sequel.net

    Reef Ball Development Group, P.O. Box 3349; Sarasota, FL 34230-3349; (941) 752-0169.

    Reef Check, Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development; Research Centre, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Clearwater Bay, Kowloon, China; www.ust.hk/~webrc/ReefCheck/reef.html

    Reef Relief, 201 William St., P.O. Box 430, Key West, FL 33041; (305) 294-3100; www.reefrelief.org

  • HERE ARE THE FACTS:

    Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

    As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

    Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

    payment methods

    ONE MORE QUICK THING:

    Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

    As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

    Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

    payment methods

    We Recommend

    Latest

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

    Get our award-winning magazine

    Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

    Subscribe

    Support our journalism

    Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

    Donate