EcoTourism and Coral Bleaching

coral bleaching

Out of the devastation that climate change causes, coral bleaching sounds minimal. Against disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, flooding, and deforestation, something called “coral bleaching” sounds weak or even insignificant in comparison. But what exactly is coral bleaching? When the water temperature is too warm or too cold, coral will expel the algae living in their tissues, turning completely white. They are not dead, but they are highly stressed, and at high risk of dying. Other causes of coral bleaching are pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, coastal development, and water recreational activities. Coral are extremely sensitive, and any kind of tip in their balance will cause bleaching and possible death.

I had an experience witnessing coral reef bleaching over the course of a few years. As a kid, I traveled to Hawaii once or twice. We did the typical tourist thing, hitting up the best beaches from our hotel in Honolulu. I remember seeing lots of colorful fish when I went snorkeling, seeing astounding colors in the shallows of the bay. I went home, deeply affected by the beauty of the region. It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 until I went back.

Instead of living in the city, we stayed along the coast of the North Shore. There, natives, locals, and rich people owning second homes live near tiny little shops along a long two-lane stretch of highway, bordered by bamboo and pineapple plantation. The crystal clear water looked even more wild and beautiful than the tourist-filled southern waters. We dove around the area, but the area was mostly sandbar and rocks. We drove to a popular coral reef called Waimea Bay, rented out snorkel gear, and checked it out.

The difference… was dismal. There was a lot less color this time, probably from damage due to the ecotourism and popularity of the site. I noticed a lot of coral bleaching, and a lot of people trying to take things from the area or stepping on plant life below. It was very upsetting. I even spotted a sea turtle passing by, and swam alongside it for a while. The animal was very passive and unafraid until some kids speaking who-knows-what language swam up to it and tried to touch its shell, scaring it off. Hawaii’s current influx of tourists are mostly drawn in by ecotourism- the sights the island paradise has to offer, and the experiences of activities out in nature. But tourism is tourism, and despite having the protection of the environment in mind, as it is monetarily beneficial, humans still pollute, damage, and develop.

It’s sad that even our efforts in promoting environment protection, and the wonder of nature, can do so much damage. We spend so much to see something we value- the coral reefs of Hawaii- and support its destruction in turn. Flying out there, driving to a costly and wasteful hotel, eating imported food, buying and creating trash. Unfortunately, it is a byproduct of our lifestyle, and not one that will change easily.In the meantime, the ocean continues to fluctuate dangerously in temperature, acidifies, and desalinates. The fish exponentially lose numbers. The coral turns from dazzling colors to stark white…


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One thought on “EcoTourism and Coral Bleaching

  1. That was a disheartening read. Informative of course, but really saddening to see… I love snorkeling, and living on an island for so long myself, I’ve seen enough coral reefs, both healthy and unhealthy, to know that all the damage being done to them just really, really sucks. I’ve also seen my fair share of obnoxious and disrespectful tourists to know that, while I don’t think tourism should be more “regulated” or limited per se, it should at least attempt to educate the people it invites to explore these islands with such enthusiasm.

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