Why are coral reefs so important?

Coral reef ecosystems help to benefit economies by providing protection against erosion, cultivating fisheries, creating and sustaining tourism activities, offering substances for medical uses, and providing a diversity of culture and aesthetics to communities.

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Kaneohe bay, Hawaii
September 10., 2015

Oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and butylparaben are all terribly harmful to coral reefs. The majority of sunscreens contain oxybenzone (also referred to as Benzophenone-3 or BP-3), which is incredibly toxic and is known to be one of the biggest factors of coral bleaching.


Everything is connected

Bombing a Reef

Hope for the Future

Listening for Parrotfish

Mauka Makai Connection



What can I do to help protect reefs?

Good management can save our reefs.

Dr. Cynthia Hunter, Ph.D.

The parrotfish are threatened because they are one of the favorite targets of local spear-fishermen.

Marc Lammers, President, Oceanwide Science Institute

Most people understand that watersheds affect the reefs.

Ku’ulei Rodgers, Principal Investigator, Coral Reef Ecology Lab

…I can be part of the solution to help things get better and as long as we’re all fighting the good fight to save our coral reefs, there is hope…

Mark Hixon, Hsiao Endowed Professor of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

There are groups of people, especially native people, on the island, who do Pono fishing. They know that it must be sustainable for the future.

Mark Hixon, Hsiao Endowed Professor of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

One good sized parrotfish makes over a ton of sand a year. So, you remove that individual from the reef and that’s one ton less of sand that you have.

Alan Friedlander, Ph.D., University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Healthy coral reefs are exceedingly important. Reefs support bustling diverse ecosystems that provide shelter to a fourth of all identified marine species and act as natural barriers, which protect the coastline from the ocean’s pounding waves.

Additionally, coral reefs are known as medicine chests of the sea, with a number of its marine creatures producing compounds that have been used for human application, including treatments for cardiovascular diseases and leukemia! Coral reefs support numerous industries from food to medicine to tourism, and it is up to us to assist in their conservation and protection.


Live sustainably! What does that mean? Well, it means reducing your carbon footprint in an effort to reverse the effects of global warming. Extra heat from warmer temperatures puts stress on the coral, which leads to bleaching. Bleaching is the loss of color from tissue, causing it to expose its skeleton.

  • Recycle to limit the amount of pollutants in our landfills
  • Compost your biodegradable waste in your garden
  • Plant a rain garden to absorb polluted runoff
  • Avoid pesticides which can runoff and end up in our ocean
  • Conserve water—careful water usage means that less runoff will end up in the ocean
  • Buy sustainable seafood
  • Become an advocate for reef conservation
  • Be a pono (responsible) fisher, taking only what you need as you follow the guidelines set by State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources
  • Avoid buying items that are made from coral or other marine life
When Traveling

Did you know that eighty percent of the United States' coral reefs call Hawaii home? As such it is important to research coral-friendly businesses, from hotels to marine tour companies, to know what they are doing to help the environment. If you are planning on participating in a marine tour, don’t hesitate to ask what the company does to support ecotourism. Ecotourism is intended to create a positive experience that assists in building environmental and cultural awareness.

Additionally, there are measures you can take to ensure that after your ocean adventure the only thing you leave behind is bubbles. Be responsible when you are participating in a marine tour—be sure that you are following local rules and regulations.

Before Your Adventure / Be a Responsible Visitor
  • Spend your vacation at hotel that has environmentally friendly practices, including energy conservation and recycling
  • Choose a reef-friendly marine tour that, among other things, uses available moorings, gives environmental briefings, and uses available wastewater pump-out facilities
  • Educate yourself about coral reefs—learn all you can about these lovely and fragile environments before your excursion
  • Purchase reef safe sunscreen—when you are in the water sunscreen can wash off potentially harming marine life
  • Consider using a snorkel vest for additional buoyancy, especially if you are an inexperienced snorkeler
  • Practice snorkeling skills away from the reef
  • Be sure that your equipment fits and well secured before entering the water
  • Make a donation when visiting coral parks or other marine conservation areas
When in the Water
  • Do not touch the coral, this means no standing or resting on them—even the lightest touch can harm them and certain coral can sting
  • Relax and take your time as you swim, it is important to move slowly so as not to accidentally disturb the coral
  • Be aware of your fins so you do not accidentally stir up sediment
  • Avoid wearing gloves and kneepads when in a coral environment
  • Remain horizontal when in the water if you are near or above a reef
  • Maintain a reasonable distance from the coral
  • Refrain from urinating while you are in the water, as anecdotal evidence suggests that human waste, specifically urine, increases algae growth which suffocates coral and impedes its growth
  • Do not take anything out of the water, with the exception of any trash you may find that is not home to living organisms