In order to gather more information on the global die off of coral reefs and what is being done to protect them, I interviewed Wesley Crile, Technical Operations Manager based in Maui, Hawaii for the Coral Reef Alliance.
- Do you think that there is hope for coral reefs?
Yes! It’s what keeps me going each day. Corals are getting hammered by so many things right now, but corals have been on the earth for millions of years, and they can and I hope will evolve to a changing World. I do not think that they will look at all like they do now, and there will likely be a major loss in biodiversity of reef ecosystems, but they will continue into the future, just in a different state. (A comparison I like is this; think of a pristine coral reef like an untouched rainforest, whereas the reefs of the future may be more like a forest that has grown back after logging or cattle grazing.
2. What is the biggest threat facing corals today?
Climate change is threat number one (warmer more acidic oceans). 2015/16 we saw some of the warmest ocean temperatures ever recorded, and the whole World saw lots of coral bleaching (this is caused when the water gets too hot for corals, and the polyps expel the algae that gives corals their color so they turn white and usually die). Forgive me if you already knew this from your work in the Bahamas. Combine this threat with all the local threats like overfishing, wastewater pollution, nutrient/fertilizer pollution, stormwater pollution, sediment pollution, bad types of sunscreen that people use, and overuse by snorkelers and divers, and corals are definitely in trouble.
3. What is the best way that someone can indirectly aid coral reefs?
Spread the word to others, and reduce your own impact on the environment. No matter how far you live from the ocean, water eventually flows through your home or yard on its way to the sea. When it leaves your yard or house, is it cleaner than when it came in? Ask questions; How does your wastewater get treated? Where does the effluent go? What about stormdrains? Do they go right into a body of water? People who wouldn’t dream of dumping used oil or garbage into the ocean or the beach sometimes don’t think twice about throwing it into a stormdrain even though it’s going to the same place in the end! What about the products you buy/use? Were they made in a sustainable way? Do they produce harmful waste? If everyone thought this way about reducing their own impact and water pollution, corals would be much better off.
4. Why don’t people know and/or care about the global mass die off of coral reefs?
This is a tough one. Coral reefs (even here where I live in Maui) are ‘out of site, and out of mind’. If you saw a pristine forest being cut down in your neighborhood, you’d probably get upset, but coral reefs die all the time and people don’t see it unless they dive or snorkel a lot.
A. If so, how can that be changed?
Tell as many people about it as you can. Documentary’s like Chasing Coral which came out recently do a good job describing what’s going on on reefs to folks who may live in Iowa and know nothing about corals and their plight. The ‘virtual reef’ program is another good one as is google oceans https://www.google.com/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/treks/oceans/
B. How is The Coral Reef Alliance informing the public around the world of the need for coral reef conservation?
We focus our projects in our various sites around the world on working directly with the communities that live, work, and interact with reef ecosystems directly or indirectly. this could be fishermen in Fiji or dive tour operators here in Hawaii. Much of my work in Maui is focused on reducing those local threats, which if we get it right, can help corals evolve in the face of warmer oceans in the future. I work with our headquarters staff in California to spread the word about what we’re doing on the ground. We have a communications department/team who helps us write blogs, produce videos, share content on our social media sites, and publish new science as it emerges or new techniques for helping protect corals as we learn them form the different field sites.
5. Will the Great Barrier Reef continue to die off at such an unprecedented rate?
Ugh, I hope not! 2015 was a tough year for the GBR, and it’s only going to get worse. One way to think about massive coral bleaching die offs though is as ‘selection events’ Yes lots of corals die, but not all of them do, and guess what; the ones that make it are generally better adapted to those conditions down the road. What we’ve got the power to change is the local threats to corals like runoff pollution and overfishing). If we can fix those problems, we can give corals a chance to evolve into the future. Check out CORAL’s “Adaptive Reefscapes” program https://coral.org/adapt/ for more details.
Photo by #StopAdani
Photo by #StopAdani
Photo by #StopAdani