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  • jeniferfoster2

Is your environment healthy?

I am back in Roatan. Four months since I was here last time. It’s both a long and short story as to why I’m here. I’ll go with the short – I was asked to come. I said yes. I have all sorts of feelings being back – which I won’t go into now. But, one thing was certain – I was excited to get back in the water and dive! I wanted to see my friends. I was particularly excited (strangely enough) to visit my jawfish friends. But, of course, I was hoping to see the spectacular eagle rays, and parrot fish, angelfish, squid, blue tangs and needlefish. There are more, of course, but that was where I was starting.

I was warned. I knew I would be startled diving. You see, I’d been watching the water temperatures since I left. Someone posted online that the temperature had risen to 88 degrees! 88 degrees!!! They had been 82 when I left. When I saw 88, I was startled. That is not good! Coral reefs do not do well when water temperatures rise too high. I didn’t know for certain, but 88 degrees definitely seemed really warm! My boss (dive shop owner here) told me that the temperatures rose to 89 degrees at their highest.

Nothing can quite prepare you, though. Nothing can prepare you for seeing the reef you’ve essentially grown up on fighting for its life. It’s like watching a thousand friends all gasping for breath. Everywhere I looked, the coral was white. There were a few corals I saw that seemed to be blue. It’s devastating. Now – if you don’t know much about corals – when things get too hot for them, they get really stressed, and they turn white. It’s essentially the equivalent of seeing an ambulance with its sirens going. Things are not good. Corals that are healthy are not white. The blue coral is apparently due to a disease that is infecting the coral. Its’ not fully clear where it has from, but it has definitely hit many corals on the reef.

As I swam along, looking at the reef, horrified, I looked out for my favorite fish. Now, I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but the reef seemed less vibrant and less alive. The jawfish that I had come to waive at on every dive were not there. I didn’t see the massive schools of chromis that I’d become accustomed to. I didn’t see the scrawled file fish or the cowfish. Was it a coincidence? Maybe. I did see a snapper scowling at me. He followed behind me, accusing me with his eyes: you, human – you are responsible for this!

I mean, it’s been happening all over. I dove in Mexico at the end of the 1990s. It was beautiful and colorful and alive. When I went back a few years ago, it did not seem as luminous. I’ve wondered since then whether it really was the degradation of the reef or whether it was looking at a memory with rose-colored glasses. But, if you listen to the guests here who return year after year, there has been a significant decline in the coral and the fish over the years. Massive brain corals and barrel corals are gone that were once here. A decline in the health of the reef which has gotten progressively worse in each succeeding year. When you’re a diver, it’s hard to miss how devastating this is.

But, what if you’re not a diver? Why should you care? Well, because, it impacts you too. You just may not be as aware visually of the decline. But, coral reefs protect the shoreline. Thus, if you live anywhere near a coast, you probably want to be mindful of how much reefs protect the shore from erosion and massive waves. One billion people rely on food/fish supported by the reefs. Reefs support tourism for fishing and diving, which in turn support the economy. But, possibly most importantly, if the reefs die, scientists suggest that there will be less oxygen in the environment. Apparently, 70% of the oxygen you breathe comes from the ocean. The death of the coral reefs equate to 50-80% of the oxygen being depleted from the environment. So, far fewer humans will be able to sustain life, because there will be far less air and other resources available. Finally, one lesser-known benefits of the reefs is that much of our medical research, especially cancer research comes from the reef. “Many organisms found on reefs produce chemical compounds that have been used in treatments for cardiovascular diseases, ulcers, leukemia, lymphoma, and skin cancer, and many more remain undiscovered. More than half of all new cancer drug research focuses on marine organisms, many of which can be found on coral reefs.” (1).

You want to hear something that will shake you? Scientists suggest that unless something significant is done, all the reefs will be dead by 2050! Now, when I first read that, I was like – oh, that’s forever from now. But, then I read it again. It’s not forever from now. It is 26 years from now! I’ll most likely still be alive. Our kids (assuming we have kids) will have to face having to fight for survival in a way that none of us have had to do! This is not a little problem. This is mind-blowing. And, then, I’m left scratching my head – how do you get people to care? Because honestly, so many people, unless the see the problem themselves, simply don’t.

When I think about wellness, I often talk about environmental wellness and how our environment is supporting (or not) the lifestyle we want. But, what is our responsibility to our environment? What is our part of the equation? I know many people disbelieve theories on environmental warming. But, one thing I’ve never understood is this – regardless of who is responsible for the warming, if there is something we can do to stop it, slow it, or improve the environment, why wouldn’t we do it? As far as we know, we have one planet on which to exist. Why wouldn’t we do anything in our power to try to preserve it?

And, what can be done? Well, get educated is probably first. Watch documentaries like Mission Blue or Chasing Coral. Tell other people. Many people think that reefs have little to do with them. It’s not true, of course, but it can feel quite distant. Two – get involved. If you are a diver, you can join a PADI Project Aware. Also, check to make sure the agencies you dive with concern themselves with conservation issues. If they don’t, encourage them to! I’m not certain how anyone can see what is happening and not be very concerned and want to get involved, but I’ve seen people try to dismiss the evidence that is right in front of them. Did you know that agencies can be part of Me neither. I had never heard of it – but, they promote sustainable tourism (and businesses who commit to the same). If your favorite dive shop or dive resort isn’t part of it, maybe you can encourage them to find out more about it. Also, devote one dive trip a year (or one dive on a trip) to coral restoration. There are tons of fun places to go. It’s our planet. Maybe we should involve ourselves in its health.

You aren’t a diver? No problem. Still plenty to do. Probably the biggest one is try to support green alternatives whenever possible. These days, it’s becoming far more affordable to buy electric cars, install solar panels, buy bamboo products rather than paper or plastic. Speaking of plastic, 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year. There are definitely ways to cut back on the amount of plastic you use. Do your part. I’ve started buying bamboo toilet paper, and detergent sheets rather than plastic bottles. These are small changes, but they all add up. Recycle! I know, it’s obvious. Recycling is also a pain.

There are so many rules! But, do your best. My boyfriend started making fun of me recently – saying that I’m suddenly a “conservationist who is trying to push it on everyone.” Listen. I’m not. But, I have learned a lot about the earth this past year. Diving as much as I have has given me a significantly different perspective. I’ve also had to do research for conservation issues, and I learned a lot I didn’t know before. So, I’ve been making more of an effort to buy greener and recycle where possible. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. There are many more ways for me to improve. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past. But, we can change how we act in the future. The situation is not getting better without significant numbers of people making significant changes. 26 years! Here is a fun website to help you:

Also, I am absolutely not here to shame you about how you’ve been living. There are tons of ways I can do a better job. But, I’m working at getting better. Won’t you join me?

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” (Native American Proverb)


Here are the cites for the information I give above, in case you want to fact-check me:

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