For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Oahu in order to study and document the failing conditions of the coral reefs there. To do this, I took two different scuba diving trips and snorkeled at eight different beaches across the island in order to get a more holistic experience.
After hearing so much about global warming and dying coral reefs, I felt as though I was ready for what I was going to see during my time in Oahu, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was expecting to see spots of flourishing reefs with an abundance of fish, but instead experienced dead, dark coral everywhere I looked. Seeing this in person, and not just on my TV screen over a thousand miles away, really hit home because it suddenly became real. This transformed my opinion on climate change, global warming, and plastic/chemical waste. Not only did it change my own opinion, but it also inspired me to enlighten others on what I had just experienced, and how we all as a society should feel, and must, do better.
On my second day in Oahu, I went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Formed from a series of volcanic bursts, this bay was originally a crater which eventually flooded. The shape and location of the bay creates a perfect habitat for marine life, making it one of the most prosperous reefs in Oahu, well, it used to be. As the years went by, fishing and tourism increased to the point where the island of Oahu made Hanauma Bay an official nature preserve in order to salvage what was left of the reef. Unfortunately, in my experience, their actions were a little too late. From what I saw, there were hardly any thriving reefs, with not as many fish as you would expect in such an ideal location.
The bay was the worst spot in Oahu for the coral reef conditions that I had experienced, with the majority of the bleaching and death of coral being caused to ocean levels lowering and overuse of the preserve, according to a Marine Life Educator at the bay. During my short time at the bay, I witnessed plenty cases of careless, including using non-coral reef safe sunscreen and swimmers blatantly stepping on the reef. To prove just how careless people can be, I even witness tourists throw their trash directly into the water. The nature preserve tried to make the best of the tourism, they get approximately 3,000 people a day (this is even with limiting the number of people that can come in at once), by requiring each guest to watch an educational video on how to treat the reefs. Furthermore, at the store in the preserve, reef safe sunscreen is also sold at a discount for guests who trade in their non-reef safe alternative. This bay is proof that no matter how hard we might try to prevent, there are always going to be people who have no appreciation for the environment.
Another main contributor to the downfall of the reefs is island wide mass pollution, this time not from tourists. During my time in Oahu I also participated in a beach cleanup, and this is where I spoke to Michael, one of the co-founders of the 808 Clean-up organization, about Hawaii’s increasing homeless epidemic. While volunteering, my mother and I picked up five one gallon buckets of trash in just 2 hours. Most of this trash was from either native parties (lots of beer cans), or homeless that make camp and live on the beach. It was shocking to me to see so much waste, because in my mind, Hawaii is this beautiful place where everyone loves/respects the land. In Michael’s opinion, the homeless problem arises from people trying to live in Hawaii, not being able to afford it, and then having no money to get back to the mainland. Having this volunteering experience was almost as eye opening as the reefs, because it showed me in order to stop ocean pollution, we as a country are going to have to do a lot more than just use metal straws.
On the island, the deterioration of the reefs and the pollution of the waters mean a decrease in the number of fish, which is what a lot of local businesses rely on. Since the reefs are affected by climate change, pollution, and careless tourism, the local Hawaiians are suffering partially at the fault of the rest of the world. Here in Ohio, the coral reefs may not have a direct effect on us, but do in long terms. Sure pollution and careless tourism have affected the reefs, but a major cause is the warming/lowering of the water levels due to climate change. Therefore, if climate change is affecting reefs in Hawaii, it is telling us that we need to change our daily lives and habits to try and keep this planet healthy before it takes its toll on the rest of the world. Another point that a Hawaiian local made to me that I found interesting was that we all breathe air, and that air, in some way, comes from our oceans.