Posted by: ecodestination | January 14, 2009

How tourism—even green tourism!—is killing the world’s reefs

Coral reef off the Egyptian coast

Coral reef off the Egyptian coast

All over the planet—from the Caribbean to Australia’s coasts—coral reefs are withering from the stress swimmers and tourism-related chemicals impose on them. According to, during the last 10 years alone the Caribbean’s reefs have been under strenuous attack.

The culprits:

  • Snorkeling and diving – swimmers astonished by the reefs’ beauty touch the fragile corals, causing serious damage. SOLUTION: stay away from those reefs! And if for whatever reason you find yourself down there, hands off, kids!
  • Sunscreen – chemicals in the sunscreen dissolving off swimmers’ skins intensifies the decline of coral populations. SOLUTION: choose biodegradable sunscreen or wear a t-shirt.
  • Disturbed sediment – unnaturally strong currents (caused by swimmers, yachts, motorboats, and so on) can alter sediment and provoke the diaspora of animal life as the animals lose their home. Another consequence is sand settling onto coral formations. SOLUTION: stay off those boats!
  • Anchors of motorboats, yachts, etc. – these can destroy corals and thereby their entire ecosystem, which results in animals losing their homes. SOLUTION: just say no!
  • The collection of specimens – despite the seemingly infinite abundance of marine life, the removal of species is not only detrimental to the ecosystem, but may also result in the accidental removal of rare and endangered species. SOLUTION: refrain from collecting any specimens and do your best to discourage others from doing so.
  • Increase in sedimentation – as tourism grows, so does the construction of hotels and other developments used to accommodate travelers. With construction comes pollution in the form of noise, contaminated air and water, and copious sedimentation both natural and synthetic. Higher amounts of sedimentation close to the shore encourage ocean species to move farther offshore, where lower levels of nutrients are available for their consumption and they are more vulnerable to the pernicious attacks of motorboats, etc. SOLUTION: consider going somewhere else for the holidays, or remain strictly green and encourage others to follow your lead – which should be a perpetual tactic for us eco travelers anyway!
  • Waste – more people equals more waste. While proper waste disposal methods are usually available, many tourists are ignorant of environmentally friendly ways to dispose of their waste. Another problem is the myriad tourists who just don’t care about the environment enough to change their destructive habits. Their garbage then winds up floating on the water and sticking to coral reefs. SOLUTION: speak up when you see someone littering and kindly point them in the right direction.
  • Pollution – While some vacation spots aren’t located within industrialized areas, it is usually inevitable that pollutants will be released into the air, land, and water in the forms of fuel, oil, paint, sewage, and so on. SOLUTION: go green or don’t go at all!

It is imperative that we continue to raise awareness about green tourism to inspire respect for our precious planet. As we continue to devise new ways to mitigate humans’ effects on our planet, we owe it to ourselves to compassionately educate those around us.



  1. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling out of teh country, you’ll need to bring biodegradable sunscreen with you. I’ve never seen it in Mexico, for example.

  2. I’ve never seen it anywhere that isn’t online. We’ve got to plan ahead for this. Great tip, Paula!!

  3. […] Swim-and always leave the motorboats and jet skis in the store (think of the coral reefs, sea turtles, etc., whose populations are diminished yearly by these […]

  4. […] all those awful news about coral reefs being on their way out? Here’s another thought: heat-tolerant algae might save them by helping coral adapt to […]

  5. […] you remember what a mess the world’s coral reefs are in (and shellfish reefs too, although we haven’t discussed that) not just because of fuck-up humans, […]

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