Perhaps best known for its wetsuits, the water sports company Body Glove has partnered with Reef Check and surfline.com to help rally support for the protection of coral reefs.
The three organizations want you to sign a largely symbolic online pledge that serves as an “International Declaration of Reef Rights.” Body Glove is throwing in some prizes such as a wet suit as an additional incentive for us to take a few minutes to sign the pledge.
I write that the pledge is largely symbolic because the directly stated goal is explained as follows: “To emphasize the importance of the world’s coral reefs and in honor of the International Year of the Reef in 2008, Reef Check is requesting people to sign a Declaration of Reef Rights, so they can present a list of one million names to all coral reef country governments in January 2009.”
After making the pledge myself, I discovered that most likely the declaration’s goal more so is meant to be educational than as an action that will help produce significant outcomes: a clever ruse in my estimation. Coral reefs are now more threatened than ever before. Some scientists have estimated that without significant changes in our behavior, reefs will be gone worldwide by 2050. Numerous reasons for the decline are known, such as acidification caused by global climate change, fishing, pollution, and tourism. Approaches that get people freshly interested in the issue and aware of the problems coral reefs face are needed.
I don’t make my comment disrespectfully about the “declaration of rights” being symbolic rather than of practical significance. I think that Reef Check, the primary organization involved in coral reef protection and rehabilitation (among the three involved with the pledge) knows what they are doing. After checking out the non-profit’s website, I saw that they also have a photography contest with prizes and a singing contest via home-made video with a $1000 prize to the 1st place winner (you need to sing a song about coral reefs).
Initially these contests gave me the impression that the organization was pretty unimpressive— it made their work seem trivial and hokey. After looking more thoroughly, however, I changed my mind. My guess is that they’ve found that to get us interested in coral reefs, there needs to be a hook beyond counting on the goodness of our hearts. While the claim I’m making is debatable, as someone who has worked in the conservation field for some time, I’ve always felt personally battered by pressures to participate in numerous causes because I should. Guilt is not necessarily a good motivating factor, and can also breed resentment.
So while I don’t know if Reef Check, surfline.com, and Body Glove are going to succeed in conserving coral reefs to any great measure with their “declaration of rights” and contests, I think that their approach might be effective at getting people to at least consider the issues coral reefs face, and how they can help. Think of it as a gateway drug for conservation.
On the more positive side, maybe the outlook for coral reefs is not as bad as we think. For instance, I just read an article today where several scientists argued that coral reefs might adapt more readily to global climate change than we think. While this is perhaps rosy optimism and could lead to a fatalist outlook, some communities are taking a more proactive approach. For instance, a coastal Florida town is now planning an attempt to grow back coral reefs using electricity.
Let’s hope it works.