How mass tourism contributes to the destruction of coral reefs

In recent years, more and more coral reefs have been destroyed. The UNESCO warns that by 2030 more than half of the world’s coral reefs could be lost. This is due to global warming but also due to mass tourism. In the following article, you will learn how coral bleaching occurs and why some of the most famous tourist resorts had to be closed to protect the local coral reefs.

coral reef

Importance of the corals

Unfortunately, coral reefs are decreasing worldwide. In the last 30 to 40 years 80% of the corals in the Caribbean and 50% in Indonesia and the Pacific have been destroyed. In 2007, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) already warned at a ‘species protection conference’ that 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed and 50% are threatened. The UNESCO warns that by 2030 more than half of the world’s coral reefs could be lost. Only a few would survive the end of our century.

Although coral reefs cover less than 0.5% of the sea floor, coral reefs provide shelter and food for many fish species. In addition, about 90% of marine species such as fish, sponges, anemones, starfish, etc. depend directly or indirectly on corals. Thus, the death of corals leads to a reduction of species diversity in the ocean.

Corals are not only important for the conservation of numerous species diversities but also for the livelihood of local populations. The activities related to coral reefs provide employment and food for millions of people worldwide, such as fishermen and workers within the tourism industry. However, at the same time, these activities are, next to natural hazards, one of the main causes of destruction of the coral reefs.  

The destruction of coral reefs leads to less fish and thus to hunger in many local populations since destroyed coral reefs are almost no longer able to harbour fish. In the Philippines, the fish stock has decreased by 60% and worldwide even by 50% as a result of declining coral reefs. As a consequence, fishermen have a significantly lower income.

coral reef

Causes of coral death

The causes of coral extinction are mainly related to climate change and pollution which negatively affect the life of corals. Corals are tiny animals and polyps that live in colonies and can create huge coral reefs. Corals occur in all shapes, colors, and depths of the oceans. They enter into a symbiotic life and food community with algae which are found in the tissue of the polyps and serve as food. Corals are very sensitive to changes in temperature. Following that the death of corals is mainly connected with the consequences of climate change. The increase in water temperatures in recent years leads to the death of the symbionts, the zooxanthellae. With the death of these coral inhabitants, the corals bleach and die out. Only the bright coral skeleton remains visible. Apart from climate change, mass tourism also has harmful effects on corals.

The closure of Maya Bay

Mass tourism contributes massively to the damage of coral reefs. For this reason, in Thailand, the Philippines, and other countries that depend heavily on the tourism industry, some tourist resorts have been closed to visitors. This step was taken so that the marine fauna and corals are able to recover. One of the most visited beaches in the world, Maya Bay (on the island Ko Phi Phi Leh in Thailand), with up to 7000 visitors per day was part of this measure. On June 1st 2018, the island was closed to visitors for the first time. Most likely, Maya Bay will remain closed until 2021. The aim is to allow the beaches and nature – especially corals – to recover.

One of the main causes of coral damage is the waste water that is disposed of by hotels. Other causes are plastic waste thrown into the sea and damage caused by the anchors of the numerous tourist boats that visit the island every day. Mass tourism has contributed to massive environmental pollution and, as a consequence, corals but also the environment in general are being damaged. Since many corals around the island have already died, it will take a substantial amount of time until the areas have fully recovered. However, tourism is an important source of income for the Thai economy. Hence, the longer such tourist spots are closed, the bigger the economical burden for the affected areas.


The consequences of tourism in Boracay

One of the most visited islands in the Philippines, Boracay, was closed to recover from mass tourism. Pollution is the main reason for this closure. The infrastructure is not able to cope with the increasing tourism and all the consequences it comes with. For example, only about half of the stores in Boracay are connected to the island’s sewage system. Therefore, out of 100 tons of waste, only around 30 tons are brought successfully on the neighboring island’s garbage dump. Sadly, the rest of the waste stays on Boracay. As a result, not only are Boracay’s beaches littered with garbage but the waste also gets into the water. This, in turn, led to permanently damaged corals. In order to preserve these sensitive coral areas, a closure was inevitable.

In a nutshell

Coral bleaching is a serious problem worldwide. Not only does it threaten biodiversity but it also poses a threat to the sustainable livelihood of local populations. Although some workers in the tourist industry are upset about the closure of the islands to visitors, it is the only way to preserve the coral reefs. In the long run, it is necessary to strive for sustainable development. Especially in the countries whose aim is to guarantee a good balance between economy and nature.