by Tricia Simon
We are blessed to be surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean which lends itself to the ability to develop a blue economy.
Here in Grenada, we are surrounded and protected by coral reefs which are “large underwater structures composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral.” Healthy coral reefs are important as they are “one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism. However, coral ecosystems around the world face serious threats from a number of sources, including climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, disease, and invasive species.”
Grenada is a gem in the Caribbean. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, ok, I really LOVE being able to swim in the warm, clean, clear, turquoise waters of Grand Anse beach. Being Grenadian, I am a “beach snob”, the water must be clear so I can see my toes in the sand which must be white and pristine in order to enter the water. The lucky individuals who are able to experience Grand Anse beach are simply that, lucky. The sun is hot and yes, if I remain in the sun, I do burn and peel – allu we black people does peel, well ah have a bit ah Portuguese in meh…but dat is another topic!
As protection against the sun, typically sunscreen is slathered on, but instead, I find a tree for shade. Can we plant a few more trees as this also helps to prevent erosion? The reality is that most individuals are not even aware of the negative effects of sunscreen on corals. A recent scientific study “Bleached, But Not by the Sun: Sunscreen Linked to Coral Damage” stated that sunscreens are made up of several chemicals which are toxic to corals. In relation to coral reef damage the article stated, “Coral reefs are among the most biologically productive and diverse ecosystems in the world, providing food protein for half a billion people. But tropical reefs have begun dying from bleaching, with the frequency and spatial extent of such bleaching increasing dramatically over the past 20 years. Now a study finds that chemical compounds in sunscreen products can cause abrupt and complete bleaching of hard corals, even at extremely low concentrations.”
What is coral bleaching? Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their vibrant colors and turn white. When coral reefs bleach, they die and at times never return which wreaks havoc on our ecosystems. National Geographic states that, “Half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death since 2016.” The Great Barrier reef is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, this status brings in immense income to Australia. In June 2021 the United Nations was vexed enough with the coral reef bleaching and threatened to downgrade its status to “in danger.” The effects to Australia’s economy would be detrimental, for now, the proverbial axe was diverted, but for how long? As they say, when your neighbour’s house is on fire, wet yours!
We in the Caribbean need to think long term, and protect our coral reefs as they protect our beautiful beaches, thus income from our blue economy. Our coral reefs are essential to our blue economy as we are dependent on tourism, “Coral bleaching impacts peoples’ livelihoods, food security, and safety. Coral reefs are natural barriers that absorb the force of waves and storm surges, keeping coastal communities safe. Without them, we must rely on manmade seawalls that are expensive, less effective, and environmentally damaging to construct. Bleached coral also compounds the overfishing crisis by removing links in the food web and depriving some fish and crustacean species of a place to spawn and develop. Anyone relying on these animals as a primary source of income or protein will be in trouble.”
We know that reef tourism “brings in billions of dollars each year and supports thousands of jobs. Bleached coral reefs, devoid of magnificent marine species.” The reality is that we can and should create more artificial reefs as sites for individuals to visit and develop our blue economy. Grand Anse beach is so clean and healthy that close to the shore wearing goggles and a snorkel one would see school upon school of fish.
Here in Grenada our territorial waters, coral reefs and fish stock are still healthy, clean and protected. We are lucky to fish using sustainable methods as opposed to the use of large trawlers with large fleets which damage the coral reefs, ocean floor and rob the seas of fish stocks which are also essential for healthy coral reefs. Areas such as the Molinere underwater sculpture park was created to allow coral to grow for all to enjoy and increase our reef stock, thus needs to be protected. We each need to act as stewards of the environment as we all share one earth! So, if sunscreen can damage coral reefs what does it do to our bodies as humans? There are relatively safe sunscreen products on the market and should be used to protect our global coral reefs.
Tricia Simon is an Attorney-at-Law called to the bar in the State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Province of Ontario, Canada.