Sylvia A. Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence
Heart of Winter 2007
If I could, I would transport all who are reading these words to reefs as I knew them decades ago: the Florida Keys, where golden branches of staghorn and elkhorn coral sheltered glittering schools of damselfish, parrotfish and large, curious grouper; the reefs of the Bahamas, where corals shaped like large, fragile dinner plates fringed deep indigo drop-offs and walls, and the shadowy gray forms of sharks added spice to every dive; or to Micronesian reefs in the tropical Pacific, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the amazingly diverse coral islands of the Western Indian Ocean and many more.
If I could, I would take you to those same places now to understand how much has changed as a consequence of what we are putting into the sea – and what we are taking out. Few large fish remain, and masses of dark algae blanket the dead coral mounds and branches. In half a century, about half the world’s coral reefs have either disappeared or are in a state of alarming decline. But half the coral reefs worldwide are still intact, which means we have a chance to do what it takes to reverse this alarming trend and restore health to many reefs while there is still time. Even in the Florida Keys, where losses are among the most dramatic, there is clear evidence that modest actions can make a big difference.