Coral reefs contain the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and are full of life, beauty, and nutrients for our oceans. They protect coastlines from the damaging effects of storms and waves, and are essential to ocean life. Unfortunately, thanks to pollution, climate change, overfishing, and poisoning, reefs are dying at alarming rates, suffering irreplaceable damage and often times, dying completely.
Just as alarming, coral reefs are dying from our sunscreen use. Most sunscreens contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which come off our skin in the water and come into contact with coral reefs, causing mutations in the coral or coral bleaching, which kills the coral and strips it of its beautiful color, leaving a dull, white skeleton behind.
Many hotels across the world are taking action to try and save coral reefs from damage and death. Here, seven of them striving to make a difference.
In Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the Fairmont Mayakoba is working hard to restore its precious coral reef. Situated along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, Fairmont Mayakoba allows guests of the resort to go out with a snorkel guide to see the work being done to restore the reef. The Coral Reef Restoration Program by Oceanus, A.C. first plants rescued coral fragments from donor population areas in coral nurseries in an attempt to regrow the tissue and recover scars and branching formations. Once stabilized, the fragments are then transplanted to selected sites utilizing concrete bases fixed in the sand, allowing them to be monitored and grow into larger coral reef pieces. So far, the resort has planted 1,500 base coral plants already, and about 80 percent are still alive.
Round Hill Hotel and Villas
Golden branching corals were the main coral reefs in Jamaica before the 1980s, when the majority of them died from pollution and overfishing, which prevented a balanced ecosystem. Today, Round Hill’s reef garden project is working to bring them back. Working with local marine scientists, the resort tends a “coral garden” and is trying to replant 5,000 corals to the Round Hill Reef Gardens in the next three years. So far, they’ve planted 1,100 golden branching corals in order to restore the ecosystem. These corals provide habitats for fish, lobster, and crabs, and increase the numbers of sea life. “Reef Gardeners” tend to the coral – weeding algae and picking snails and worms, for example – and then plant the grown coral back into the reef, renewing the balance of the resort’s reef.
Credited with influencing the new sunscreen law that bans reef-damaging sunscreens in Hawaii in 2021, Aqua-Aston Hospitality has 40 hotels now offering reef-safe sunscreen samples, dispensers, and products for sale. Nearly 100,000 reef-safe sunscreen samples have been distributed to date, and numerous Aqua-Aston properties have onsite reef-safe dispensers, including The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, Luana Waikiki Hotel & Suites, and Aston at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach. Aqua Aston was also credited as a founding member of the very first World Reef Day on July 1, 2019.
Located on French Polynesia, The Brando is working to save corals by looking towards the future. The resort’s Ocean Acidification Program does a chemical analysis of the water around coral to measure the daily “heartbeat” of the reef to determine reef health. Oxygen, pH, and other chemicals tell how fast the reef is growing, and help predict the reef’s future health. The resort is also experimenting on part of the reef to simulate conditions 100 years from now, which helps predict the fate of coral reefs in response to climate change. To do this, the resort uses water pumped up from the depths of the ocean using The Brando’s sustainable air conditioning system and transfers the highly acidic water to a small region of Tetiaroa’s reef. The reef in this test area experiences conditions that reefs are expected to undergo about 100 years from now, giving scientists and guests an opportunity to study a futuristic reef.
Four Seasons Koh Samui
In-house marine biologist Benjawan Sansittisakunlird (Benji) leads guests of the Four Seasons Koh Samui on snorkeling trips along the reef adjoining the resort in Thailand. To date, the resort has planted 16,000 coral fragments in the sea, and the reef is monitored regularly. After snorkeling, Benji helps guests identify coral species, such as flowerpot coral and galaxy coral. Those wanting a deeper dive into coral conservation can learn about it at the resort through the weekly Coral Talk, which offers guests a look into the world of coral regeneration. On occasion, guests can help pick up broken coral pieces from the reef, which are rehabbed in nurseries and then transplanted into an underwater platform.
Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
In the Maldives, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru is getting technical with reef protection. In a collab with inventors at the Global Coral Reef Alliance, the resort uses steel structures with low-voltage currents to promote the deposition of calcium carbonate through the process of electrolysis of sea water. The idea is that corals will grow faster, as calcium carbonate is used for corals’ skeletons. The tests determine whether a low-voltage electrical current helps coral growth and coral health. So far, the results are positive. The volcano-shaped steel structure on Vabbinfaru, called the Lotus, provides corals and fish with a healthy habitat and is a great opportunity for snorkelers to see the birth of a new coral reef.
This St. Lucian resort is tackling reef damage by having guests literally eat the problem away. Lionfish, one of the most destructive and invasive fish species to ever hit the Caribbean, are causing irreparable damage on coral reefs by feeding on fish that eat the algae from the reefs. Without the herbivorous fish to eat algae, reefs become unhealthy and can die. Anse Chastanet serves a multi-course menu that features lionfish, complete with paired wines and beach views. They serve the lionfish as sashimi, ceviche, and grilled or stewed with Caribbean flavors.