Diving in a coral reef is one of the most spellbinding experiences a traveler can have, but these underwater wonderlands are at risk of extinction. Due to climate change, overfishing, coastal development, pollutants, and disease, an estimated 30 to 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have disappeared, and more than 90 percent could be gone by 2050. Amid such drastic circumstances, many scientists have switched their focus from conservation to active restoration—and on your next beach vacation, you can help.
Coral Restoration Foundation
Coral Restoration Foundation in the Florida Keys is a team of passionate conservationists on a mission to regrow Floridian reefs, which have declined by 98 percent. Tourists and locals alike can participate in educational programs above and below the surface, including dives to plant forests of “coral trees”— lattices of PVC pipe and fiberglass rods from which coral can be hung like ornaments on a Christmas tree. “It’s recognized around the world as the best way to grow certain types of coral really quickly,” says Coral Restoration Foundation communications director Alice Grainger. “It’s cheap, easy to produce, and the design is openly available to anyone who wants it. Because of these coral trees, we’re now able to produce around 50,000 reef-ready corals every year.”
Mexico’s Riviera Maya
In Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the four hotels at the Mayakoba resort offer workshops on coral restoration, as well as snorkeling and diving tours on which guests can get an up-close look at the ongoing work on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second-largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). The properties also observe an annual Reef Week every summer. “We believe that children are the future, which is why we began by focusing on them with Reef Week programming,” says Ambar Plasencia, the director of the conservation- and education-focused Sancus Foundation. “We explain what a coral is, how a reef ecosystem works, its importance, and what we can do to help protect it. By involving the kids’ clubs from all of the hotels, we hope to create young ambassadors for our oceans.” For inspired adults, meanwhile, the foundation matches guest donations.
Fragments of Hope / Cayos Cochinos Foundation
Belize / Honduras
Further south along the Mesoamerican Reef, Belize’s Fragments of Hope and Honduras’s Cayos Cochinos Foundation are also working to restore coral. Cayos Cochinos recently opened cabins on a private island that serve as a base camp for guests to explore the archipelago and participate in restoration and conservation programs. Fragments of Hope, for its part, offers kayak tours and volunteer opportunities.
Coral Hero Program
If you really want to get a feel for what it’s like to be a marine biologist, perhaps the ideal activity is the Coral Hero Program at Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo resort. Here, you can clean, plant, and adopt coral—and even give your coral structure a name. Everyone, meet Cory.