THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this November 2009 file photo, orange-coloured ringed rice coral, or montipora patula, is seen in waters off Waimanalo, Hawaii. While vacationing in Hawaaii, local high school student Rashmini Shunmugam thought about the things people unknowingly do that damage sea life, including wearing sunscreen in the ocean, which causes coral to lose its colour.
I went to Hawaii over the Christmas break with my family, and it was beautiful, sunny and hot.
The beach, like everyone describes it, has clear water and warm sand. When you go swimming in the ocean, there are fish, ranging from hot pink to black as night. On the rare occasion, you may spot sea turtles, eels and beautiful vibrant coral. The one question that remained on my mind was, "Will this all still be here in 100 years?"
In Hawaii, I experienced first-hand some of the things humans are doing to destroy sea life, without meaning to. You would think sunblock is harmless. In water it is toxic to coral reefs. The chemicals in sunblock awaken dormant viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighbouring coral communities. The end effect is that the coral loses its colour and turns white, which can happen in four days with low levels of sunscreen. Can you imagine what happens to coral reefs with 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washing off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide?
Feeding animals is one of the best ways to bring the fish and other sea life to you, but what happens if everyone did it?
Feeding sea life puts the animals off their normal diet. They eventually rely on humans to feed them. What’s the harm in that you say? Well, when animals don’t stick to what their bodies need to survive like aquatic plants and algae, their bodies don’t get the proper nutrition they need. They depend on humans as their food source and an unbalanced food chain occurs.
When we went snorkelling in Hawaii, sometimes we would find turtles feeding on the coral right by the shore, in the shallow parts of the ocean. When you see an animal in their natural habitat, you want to touch it or get very close to it. It is encouraged in aquariums to touch the animals or even swim with them (if you pay extra money), so what is wrong with touching or swimming with them in the wild? In the U.S., you get fined for touching the turtles. The turtles are an endangered species and only now is Hawaii taking every measure it can to protect sea life, but some people are just not listening.
People should not touch marine life because it could lead to harassment of the animal, as well underwater creatures, unlike above-water creatures, are much more exposed as a result of constantly swimming in a soup of the stuff. Touching can disturb their native protection, putting them at increased risk.
When we went to Hanamua Bay in O’hau Honolulu to go snorkelling, we watched a 10-minute presentation on aquatic life. The presentation explained what you shouldn’t do in the water because it destroys the coral and kills the animals. It was mandatory that everyone watched this video. The main points of the film were to not walk on the coral (even if it might look like black rock, it is still coral), not feed the animals, and most of all, not touch the coral or any sea life. You would think because everyone had watched the video they wouldn’t touch the coral for their safety and the safety of aquatic life.
However, when we walked down to the beach and started snorkelling in this huge bay, we saw people standing, walking, sitting and even lying down on the reef.
If you want to help make sure there will be a future for coral reefs and sea life wherever you may travel, some things you can do to help include educating yourself about oceans and marine life, travel through the ocean responsibly and help take care of the beach (by not removing any coral or rocks from the sea). Use fewer plastic products, which usually entangle and kills tens of thousands of marine animals each year, and most of all, mind your carbon footprint and reduce energy consumption.
My rationale for writing this article was to raise awareness of the many things people do that unknowingly damage sea life every day. In fact, I am guilty of contributing to this myself by wearing sunscreen in the ocean and scraping the coral with my fins because the current was strong (although I didn’t mean to touch the coral).
That being said, I truly believe we can help educate others on the impact we have on marine life. Together we can bring about some change and improvement so the coral reefs and life under the sea can flourish rather than continue to fade away.
» Rashmini Shunmugam is a Grade 10 student at Neelin High School.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 27, 2014