State Launches ‘Coral Pledge’ to Save Reefs

November 2, 2019, 12:37 PM HST (Updated November 2, 2019, 12:28 PM)
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Coral Bleaching West Hawai‘i. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i

Responding to widespread coral bleaching events that struck Hawai‘i reefs this fall, the state is introducing a new initiative aimed at reducing human impacts to coral ecosystems.

The Coral Pledge, a DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources initiative, provides a simple set of recommendations to help reduce human impacts to Hawai‘i reefs year-round, but particularly during bleaching events. The pledge is primarily for commercial tour operators and businesses who work in and around the ocean, and who regularly interact with visitors.

Hawai‘i’s corals are under serious threat due to rising ocean temperatures, sea level rise, pollution and overfishing, according to DLNR. Coral reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands support more than 7,000 species of marine plants and animals, a quarter of which are found only in Hawai’i.

Tour operators and businesses can take the pledge online, which includes six steps to reduce stresses to Hawai‘i reefs.

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Bleaching used to be rare in Hawai‘i, but in the last few years, researchers have observed three significant bleaching events resulting in major die-offs of corals throughout the state. Though warming ocean temperatures are the direct cause of bleaching, people can reduce their own impacts to prevent further stress to reef habitats.

DLNR graphic.

Industry Coral Pledge

1. Explain to visitors that a coral bleaching event is occurring in Hawai’i and how they can help corals during this time.

  • 2. Do not touch, kick, rest, or stand on coral:
    Take guests to deeper locations to avoid physical reef disturbance;
  • Prohibit guests from swimming into areas where the water depth is less than five feet;
  • Avoid touching anything with fins, and be aware of stirring up sediment;
  • Remind all visitors to never touch or step on the bottom.

3) Promote the use of sun-protective clothing to reduce sunscreen use and use reef-safe alternatives sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.

4) Establish a no take, no feeding policy for all marine life:

  • Do not feed fish. Fish feeding fills up key herbivores, preventing them from doing their job on the reef, and can alter fish population structure;
  • Remind visitors of rules prohibiting take of marine life, shells, sand, and coral from Marine Life
    Conservation Districts, and encourage them to practice this same behavior at all sites they visit;
  • Avoid excessive noise which can disturb marine ecosystems, displace key species, and/or change their behaviors in ways that alter their ecosystem services.

5) Conduct environmental awareness briefings and include reminders not to touch coral during every briefing:

  • Display more reef-safe guidance in shops and on websites;
  • Require all staff to adhere to the principles of this pledge;
  • Request operators and staff to report bleaching to DAR at hawaiicoral.org;
  • Encourage operators and staff to participate in reef monitoring programs, like Eyes of the Reef.

6) Reduce waste and properly dispose of trash or litter:

  • Encourage all guests to use the boat’s head prior to entering the water;
  • Use biodegradable toilet paper and phosphate-free cleaning products and minimize their entry
    into the marine environment wherever possible;
  • Do not wash dishes at anchor or discard any food scraps;
  • Petroleum products in the bilge should be broken down with biodegradable detergents and
  • pumped into vessel storage containers on board, then disposed of at a recycling depot on shore.

7) Never drop anchor on coral:

  • Use only available, legally installed day-use moorings and encourage all other boaters to do the same;
  • Help non-commercial boaters locate available moorings;
  • Carry enough chain and line to anchor at an appropriate depth;
  • Always check the area before anchoring;
  • Anchor in sand away from live coral and be sure the chain is clear of coral;
    If anchors get stuck, do not use force to free them. Snorkel or dive to release them.
  • 8) Stagger visitation of commercial tours:
    Where possible, all commercial vessels should stagger activities throughout their stay to limit the number of passengers at locations and avoid overcrowding. This includes scuba diving, snorkel tours and other in-water activities.
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