How This Single Coral Reef Proves That There is a Solution to Saving All of the Others

Located 19 miles off of the coast of Georgia lies Gray’s Reef. For nearly 40 years, the United States government has deemed this reef as a protected area. Recreational fishing and diving is allowed, however, there is no commercial fishing or any other types of exploitation allowed.

Gray’s Reef
Image Source: Greg McFall / NOAA

In the 1960s a biologist by the name of Milton “Sam” Gray claimed that this area was worth preserving due to its abundance of diversity of about 1,000 different species of invertebrates. In addition to the invertebrates, this reef is home to over 200 species of fish.

Gray’s Reef
Image Source: Flip Nicklin

With the success of Gray’s reef, which has served as a successful case study, more and more protected areas have been designated all over the world since the establishment of Gray’s Reef as a protected area.

Here are just a few from the most recent decades since Gray’s:

  • In 2008 Phoenix Island was deemed a protected area covering over 150,000 square miles off of the Kiribati coast. Scientists have recorded a number of species return to the area in 2018.
  • In 2006 the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii was established as a protected area. The protection extends to 583,000 square miles. Both marine life as well as terrestrial animals have seen quite a comeback since then and continue to thrive in the protected area.
  • Established in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 3,800 square miles of the Florida Barrier Reef (the third largest in the world), the mangrove forest in the area and the seagrass fields in the area. While you are allowed to snorkel, scuba dive and fish in the area, there are a lot of restrictions in order to ensure that the activities are not harmful to the sanctuary’s resources. More specifically: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations. No commercial fishing is allowed.

And there are countless other protected areas that have been effective without keeping people 100% away from the area. The main issue seems to be the commercial fishing industry – which is restricted from most if not all of the protected areas. And the reason is simple: they are not sustainable in their practices and their equipment causes a lot of damage to the reefs as well as marine life that they are not even targeting.

With more and more aquaculture related solutions becoming available and coral reefs given the time to recover and thrive, this is definitely a fixable problem. The only question that really remains is: What’s the happy medium? We unfortunately cannot stop commercial fishing as a whole at the moment. But this one instance – Gray’s Reef – as well as countless others proves that the protected areas work – they allow the reefs to recover. So it’s either a more sustainable “schedule” with safer equipment or more aquaculture solutions. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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