protecting the reefs we still have

what we can do to help protect coral reefs (and other marine habitats)

coral infographic


make good choices in protecting coral reefs

Even if you don't live near a reef, you can help protect coral reefs in the U.S. and around the world. There are many actions, little and big, that you can take in your life to help conserve coral reefs; a selection of these are listed below.

Long-lasting light bulbs are a bright idea. If every household in the U.S. replaced a burned-out bulb with an energy-efficient, ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent bulb, it would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that from at least 800,000 cars. Climate change is one of the leading threats to coral reef survival, so let your conservation light shine.

It stinks to send chemicals into our waterways.  Whether you live one mile or one thousand miles from a coral reef, the chemicals we use to clean our houses and beautify our lawns end up in our waterways and are carried to the oceans. Just one pound of phosphorus in water produces an estimated five hundred pounds of algae, blocking sunlight and starving coral reefs. Do your part by using naturally-derived and biodegradable detergents and cleaning products. Outside the house, minimize the impacts of fertilizer by using zero-phosphorus products or no more than one pound per 1,000 square feet of turf area for nitrogen (you need just half that amount in shade).

Corals are already a gift. Don't give them as presents. Corals are popular as souvenirs, for home decor and in costume jewelry, yet corals are living animals that eat, grow and reproduce. It takes corals decades or longer to create reef structures, so leave corals and other marine life on the reef.

Don't drag the reef into this. Use reef mooring buoys when available. Or, anchor in sandy areas away from coral and sea grasses so that the anchor and chain do not drag on nearby corals or tear-up sea grass beds. Once broken, corals can take decades or longer to redevelop, and a damaged reef is less able to provide food, habitat and shoreline protection.

The ocean floor is not a dance floor.  Coral reefs are alive. Stirred-up sediment can smother corals, and each inch of reef can take decades to redevelop once broken. Divers and snorkelers can do their part by maintaining proper buoyancy control, never touching reefs and spreading the word about coral reef stewardship.

Choose Sustainable Seafood. Visit  NOAA FishWatch to get to know your seafood from ocean to plate. NOAA FishWatch provides science-based facts to help consumers make smart sustainable seafood choices. Also let restaurants and grocers in your community know that you, their customer, care about where your seafood comes from. Encourage them to shift their seafood purchases towards more sustainable choices.

Conserve water. The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater eventually find their ways back into the oceans.

Be a wastewater crusader. Make sure that sewage from your boat and home is correctly treated. Excess nutrients in wastewater can negatively impact coral reef ecosystems.

Be a marine debris crusader. In addition to picking up your own trash, carry away the trash that others have left behind. More than just an unsightly nuisance, beach and boating litter poses a significant threat to the health and survival of marine organisms, which can swallow or get tangled in beverage containers, plastic bags, six-pack rings, and other debris.

Be an informed fish tank owner. Only buy marine fish and other reef organisms when you know they have been collected in an ecologically sound manner. Do not release store-bought fish into local waterways and ask store managers where the organisms come from and how they were collected. Does the country have a management plan to insure the harvest was legal and sustainable over time?

Become a volunteer monitor. Participate in community coral reef monitoring programs. If you do not live near a coast, get involved in protecting your watershed.

Educate yourself about coral reefs and the creatures they support. How many different species live in reefs? What new medicines have been developed from reef organisms? Participate in training or educational programs that focus on reef ecology. When you further your own education, you can help others understand the fragility and value of the world's coral reefs.

Hire local guides when visiting coral reef ecosystems. This will help you learn about local resources, and protect the future of the reef by supporting the local economy.

If you dive, don't touch! Take only pictures and leave only bubbles. Keep your fins, gear, and hands away from the reef, as this contact can hurt you and will damage the delicate coral animals.

Participate in the Great Annual Fish Count. What better way to enjoy your vacation than snorkeling or diving in America's coral reefs? The Fish Count helps scientists better understand coral reef fish populations.

Dispose of your trash properly: Don't leave unwanted fishing lines or nets in the water or on the beach. Any kind of litter pollutes the water and can harm the reef and the fish and Recycle. This helps keep trash out of the oceans and also out of landfills where it can have an adverse impact on the water quality of our rivers and oceans.

Help reduce pollution: Walk, bike or ride the bus. Fossil fuel emissions from cars and industry raise lead to ocean warming which causes mass-bleaching of corals and can lead to widespread destruction of reefs.

Use only ecological or organic fertilizers: Although you may live thousands of miles from a coral reef ecosystem, these products flow into the water system, pollute the ocean, and can harm coral reefs and marine life.

Plant a tree: Trees reduce runoff into the oceans. You will also contribute to reversing the warming of our planet and the rising temperatures of our oceans. Help the Nature Conservancy Plant a Billion.

Report dumping or other illegal activities. Help be the eyes and ears of the reef! Your involvement can make a big difference.

Respect local guidelines when you visit a reef. Help keep coral reefs healthy by respecting local customs, recommendations, and regulations. Ask local authorities or your dive shop how to be a reef-friendly tourist.

Spread the word. Remember your own excitement at learning how important the planet's coral reefs are to us and the intricate global ecosystem. Share this excitement and encourage others to get involved.

Stay informed. Find out about existing and proposed laws, programs, and projects that could affect the world's coral reefs. Many Web sites provide information about coral reefs and what you can do to get involved.

Support organizations that protect coral reefs. Many groups have coral reef programs, and your support will make a big difference.

Support reef-friendly businesses. Ask what your dive shop, boating store, tour operator, hotel and other coastal businesses are doing to save coral reefs. This is especially important in coastal areas with reefs. Let them know you are an informed consumer and care about reefs.

Visit your local aquarium or zoo. Ask what they are doing and how you can help conserve our coral reefs. The answer may pleasantly surprise you. Visit the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find a zoo or aquarium near you.

Visit your local aquarium or zoo. Ask what they are doing and how you can help conserve our coral reefs. The answer may pleasantly surprise you. Visit the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find a zoo or aquarium near you.


Volunteer for a reef or beach cleanup. Don't live near a coral reef? Then consider volunteering for a beach, river, or stream cleanup, if you live near one. Trash, especially plastic, is a great traveler once in the water and can end up in a far-away coral reef. Project AWARE Foundation is one of many organizations that coordinates global beach and underwater cleanups year round. The International Coastal Cleanup is another annual event that occurs at multiple locations worldwide, typically in the month of September.

Contact your government representatives: Demand they take action to protect coral reefs, stop sewage pollution of our oceans, expand marine protected areas and take steps to reverse climate change.