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A scuba diver photographs a school of bluestripe snapper in the waters of Hawaii. The state’s marine life is threatened by pollution, climate change, and overfishing.
David Fleetham/Nature Picture Library
Stone with Roxie Sylva of the Nature Conservancy in Maui
Photo courtesy of the author
Coral Reefs in Danger
Experts are trying to save Hawaii’s colorful ecosystems

Coral reefs burst with bright colors, and exotic fish swim in crystal blue waters. Thousands of tourists go to Hawaii each year to experience the spectacular marine life. Now, however, the coral reefs and marine life are endangered.

Hawaii suffered its worst-ever coral bleaching this year. Unusually warm waters washed onto the Hawaiian shores, causing the reefs to lose their color and become more vulnerable to disease. The reefs were already turning pale from pollution, sediment runoff from land, trampling, and a lack of herbivorous (plant-eating) fish.


On a recent visit to Hawaii, I sat down with Roxie Sylva, the Maui Marine Program Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization. Sylva helps to preserve marine life on Maui, one of Hawaii’s many islands. She educates local communities, monitors the growth of marine life, and tries to protect endangered species.

“The state has also taken action,” Sylva said. “There are now strict fishing regulations, and it is illegal to harm endangered species, such as the Hawaiian green sea turtle, Hawaiian humpback whales, and Hawaiian monk seals.”

Sylva has always had a passion for preserving her state’s natural beauty. “When I was little, I often went to the beach,” she said. “I would see marine debris and garbage left behind by visitors, and I always picked up the trash. In high school, I enrolled in an elective Marine Science course. I was so surprised that there was a field for this topic.”

What can you do to help? If you visit a coral reef, wear reef-safe sunscreen, Sylva suggests. Don’t leave trash behind, and pick up garbage on beaches. Spread the word to your parents and grandparents, too.

Helping to protect the planet is a great way to celebrate Earth Day.