Protecting Coral Reefs

soft corals near Savusavu

soft corals near Savusavu

The anchors and anchor chains of private yachts can do serious damage to coral reefs. Pronged anchors are more environmentally friendly than larger, heavier anchors, and plastic tubing over the end of the anchor chain helps minimize the damage. If at all possible, anchor in sand. A longer anchor chain makes this easier, and a good windlass is essential for larger boats. A recording depth sounder will help locate sandy areas when none are available in shallow water. If you don’t have a depth sounder and can’t see the bottom, lower the anchor until it just touches the bottom and feel the anchor line as the boat drifts. If it “grumbles” lift it up, drift a little, and try again. Later, if you notice your chain grumbling, motor over the anchor, lift it out of the coral and move. Not only do sand and mud hold better, but your anchor will be less likely to become fouled. Try to arrive before 3:00 pm to be able to see clearly where you’re anchoring-Polaroid sunglasses make it easier to distinguish corals. If you scuba dive with an operator who anchors incorrectly, let your concerns be known.

Resort developers can minimize damage to their valuable reefs by providing public mooring buoys so yachts don’t have to drop anchor and pontoons so snorkelers aren’t tempted to stand on coral. Licensing authorities can make such amenities mandatory whenever appropriate, and in extreme cases, endangered coral gardens should be declared off limits to private boats.

If you witness dumping or any other marine-related activity you think might be illegal, don’t become directly involved but take a few notes and photos and calmly report the incident to the local authorities or police at the first opportunity. You’ll learn something about their approach to these matters and make them aware of your concerns. Unfortunately fishing with the help of dynamite, scuba gear, or poisons are all too common, almost entirely practiced by local residents.

There’s an urgent need for stricter government regulation of the marine environment, and in some places coral reefs are already protected. Appeals such as this have only limited impact-legislators need to write stricter laws and impose fines. As consumerism spreads, once-remote areas become subject to the problems of pollution and overexploitation: the garbage is visibly piling up on many shores. As a visitor, don’t hesitate to practice your conservationist attitudes, for as Marshall McLuhan said, “On Spaceship Earth, there are no passengers, we are all members of the crew.”