Coral Reefs Are Disappearing — Here’s How To Visit Them Without Making Matters Worse


Coral reefs are one of the most colorful, magical wonders of the world, but they’re disappearing more quickly than anyone anticipated. At the current rate, nearly all of the reefs in the United States will be gone in 30 years.

Warming ocean temperatures have caused a global bleaching effect that has affected more than 70 percent of the reefs around the entire world. The extra heat turns the rainbow coral under the sea bright white. Some coral never recovers and dies.

Beyond bleaching, a recent study published in the journal Science revealed that coral reefs could begin to literally dissolve by 2100. The culprit? The ocean’s increasing acidity, which is driven by climate change.

So now is the time to see the reefs — before they’re gone. But as a tourist, you want to make sure your presence isn’t making things worse. Here are five tips for making your reef visit as green as possible.


1. Use natural sunscreen.

We hope you’re packing plenty of sunscreen for your tropical vacation. However, the same stuff that keeps you from getting burned can kill coral. If you want to save the reefs, switch to a sunscreen that doesn’t use oxybenzone and other UV-absorbing compounds.

Now, this does mean you have to apply it more often. The lack of icky chemicals in the products means it also lacks the water-resistant qualities of your average drugstore brand.

2. Travel with eco-certified tours.

When you’re going onto the water, you want to make sure you’re voyaging with a company that aims to stay green. You can easily vet tour companies through their websites and any certifications they hold (like Green Globe, for instance).

3. Make your trip a volunteer effort.

Voluntourism is complicated. But eco efforts stay away from potentially exploitative school or orphanage scams and let visitors get hands-on in the ocean. You can help plant new coral farms or monitor new growth or even work at marine life rescue centers with animals displaced by habitat destruction.

4. Eat sustainably while traveling (and at home, too).

You know what also kills coral reefs? Overfishing. When huge boats take over large swaths of the sea, the entire ocean suffers. Ecosystems have a delicate balance, and if one species has scarily low populations, it causes a ripple effect across the globe.

You can make sure your fish is sustainably-sourced by checking the World Wildlife Fund’s guide to 20 countries around the world. And while you’re at it, maybe see what’s up with where you’re buying your seafood at home.

5. Avoid coral souvenirs.

Coral is stunning. That red-orange jewelry is so tempting. But did you know that a coral reef might not ever recover from a section being harvested? So skip the coral jewelry and settle for synthetic.

We hope we don’t actually have to spell this one out for you, but please do not break off pieces of coral yourself to bring home. If you find some on a beach, so be it. But leave what’s in the water alone.