In our opinion: Reef conservation critical

Why are news stories and an editorial like this even necessary?

It was reported last week that the coral reef ecosystems that fringe the Hawaiian Islands are worth more than $33 billion. As if the price matters.

Our survival depends on the health of these living organisms. Despite only comprising less than 1 percent of the ocean floor worldwide, corals sustain some 25 percent of the marine species on Earth. But aside from being a food source and tourism draw, these so-called “rainforests of the sea” are also critical for humans because they remove carbon dioxide from the air.

The reefs, which have been around for millions of years, are dying. Not just here in the Aloha State but around the globe. Coral bleaching abounds and scientists are recording a trickle-up effect of dire consequences. Sick reefs mean unhealthy humans; we’re all connected.

We need to act now, if not yesterday, to protect this fragile resource and there are steps we can take  to make a meaningful difference.

Considering what we fertilize our food with is a great place to start. The pesticides keeping the bugs off our crops are swept into streams that carry these toxins out into the ocean during heavy rains. This runoff, which also brings enterococcus bacteria from dilapidated septic systems, is one of the reasons our reefs need help.

Other important ways we can assist in a coral comeback include reducing carbon emissions (climate change is a leading cause of reef decline because warmer ocean temperatures are wrecking their relationships with symbiotic algae) and being mindful when swimming, surfing or snorkeling. Stepping on a chunk of brain or elk coral just 10 inches long could mean a decade of recovery.

Presidential directives and government penalties aside, protecting our reefs is just the right thing to do. It’s not just our financial livelihoods at stake here; it’s our very existence.

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