Coral reefs produce a huge amount of oxygen And we kind of need O2 to survive. Coastal development can harm corals by increasing sediment, pollution and nutrient runoff. That’s a dangerous thing to think. Promoting reef resilience is a local solution. When I’ve regained my composure a little, I ask the skipper to take me to somewhere with shallower, calmer waters. “We’re lucky here in the south because the coral is protected,” says Peter Gash. Corals themselves are living creatures — tiny marine invertebrates that group together to form colonies. “I fear if we close it off, then it can just be forgotten about. Tourism is still rife today with the island doubling up as a resort, only now, it’s an eco-friendly one. Today, under the watchful eye of Peter, the island has become a conservation eco-centre, gently reverting back to an island where nature rules. Back on shore, I listen to presentations on wildlife and conservation by the resort’s resident marine biologists and, come nightfall, enjoy a spot of stargazing in a sky free of light pollution. NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is helping local managers and communities do just that. And the birds are pooping. On its surrounding reef bed, I dive into another world of earthy colours, this time, with bursts of lilacs, powder blues and lime greens. My breathing is laboured, soaking up my supply of oxygen at an unsustainable rate, as the waves pound my body. Threatened reefs can be protected by eradicating destructive rats on tropical islands, scientists say. We may lose them all by 2050. Earthy shades are interspersed with muted blues, reds and yellows. It’s an expectation. My days as a guest at Heron Island are filled with sunrise snorkels around a shipwreck accompanied by rays, sharks and turtles. A coral cay formed entirely by sedimentary debris, the island appeared above sea level some 3,500 years ago. Inform yourself of safer choices for coral. The recent years of conservation have seen the turtles return to lay their eggs. But the imminent danger to this part of the world isn’t ignored. Coral reefs are facing a host of local stressors. It was first occupied in the 1920s when a factory producing soup from turtle flesh was built here. For a decade in the 1800s, the island was visited by workers mining guano (bird poo) — used as gunpowder and fertiliser — which virtually wiped the land of all vegetation, save for eight Pisonia trees. I dive once more off Lady Musgrave’s shores before it’s time to check out the neighbouring carbon-positive Pumpkin Island — a privately owned island that runs as an eco-retreat and, quite remarkably, manages to offset 150% of its annual carbon emissions. 10 ways to protect CORAL REEFS. Signs are dotted across the island, encouraging visitors to be mindful of the footprint they leave and to report anything that might impact negatively on the reef and wildlife. We work collaboratively with communities to reduce direct threats to reefs in ways that provide lasting benefits to people and wildlife. Algae provide corals’ color, so the reefs turn white. The same panic that hit me on my first dive starts to bubble up inside me as I sink down further into a world that isn’t mine. Schemes to save those reefs are as creative as they are varied; most recently, scientists released data showing that marine protected areas can help save reefs if they are placed in just the right spots. Mitigating climate change is the only long-term, sustainable solution to conserve and restore coral reefs. The next weighty punch came in the 1950s, when tourism was introduced. Plastic pollution is one of the issues Natalie finds herself talking about more and more these days. 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