They live and breathe just like humans. They provide sustenance. And our coral reefs are now in acute peril. It’s an important global issue and one that resonates with Bitsy Kelley. For the past couple of years, the Honolulu native has advocated for “OZONE”—as in the Outrigger zone. The initiative is a global conservation program, which aims to protect and grow coral reefs in oceans surrounding Outrigger resorts in the Hawaiian isles, Fiji, Guam, Thailand and Mauritius.
In conjunction with World Oceans Month, the second annual OZONE Day at the Waikīkī Aquarium on Saturday, June 4, will offer education and fun hands-on activities for the entire family. Live entertainment and an ocean-themed art show will be other highlights. Attendees can also help with an algae clean up in front of the Aquarium.
“Growing up, I knew every coral reef intimately,” says Kelley, an avid surfer and vice president of corporate communications for Outrigger Enterprises Group. “I’ve got the scars to prove it. But I’ve seen first-hand what has happened to our reefs over the years; they’re dying.”
Coral reefs were important to the ancient Hawaiians for food, cultural practices, recreation and overall survival. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), healthy coral reefs are some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. And although coral makes up less than one percent of the underwater ecosystem, it helps to protect 25 percent of marine species, generates tourism revenue and boosts fishing, according to data from The Nature Conservatory.
Hawaiʻi’s “economy is so fundamentally tied to the corals,” says Ruth Gates, in an interview with NBC News. Bleaching has affected as much as 60 percent of the state’s coral since last fall, according to Gates, a research professor at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology.
In partnership with NOAA, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Waikīkī Aquarium, Outrigger Enterprises Group plans to transplant and grow a football field worth of coral at participating resorts over the next decade. It’s an ambitious goal but an achievable one, according to Paolo Maurin, Ph.D, Hawaii management liaison for NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.
“I think it’s important that the goal is specific,” Maurin says. “It’s OK to be ambitious because that goal can be tracked and it can quantifiable.”
With more than 60 percent of the world’s reefs under immediate threat, conservation is key to stem the damage — and possibly even reverse it. But to do so requires the efforts of science-based management, more education and prioritizing on-the-ground and in-the-water actions that address the top three threats to coral reef ecosystems.
“Climate change, acidic oceans, land-based pollution and negative impact of over fishing are the main threats,” Maurin explains. “Some threats, like climate change, will go unabated, but we can do things locally that can increase the resiliency of our reefs.”
Much of Outrigger's program was inspired by an existing program at the Castaway Island Resort in Fiji where visitors are offered an opportunity to replant coral in the ocean. Outrigger employees have since partnered with other organizations in Mauritius, Maldives, Thailand and Guam to protect ocean environments.
“In Fiji, we work with the nonprofit Mamanuca Environment Society, which helps educate our guests about the surrounding reef,” Kelley says. “Your vacation can truly make a difference.”
What tourists see while snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is not an accurate picture of Hawai‘i reefs, which are susceptible to coral bleaching, a coral stress response, in this case likely due to warmer sea surface temperatures.
“In terms of science, it’s not that complicated; we know what needs to be done.” Maurin says. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful what Outrigger is doing. They have a tremendous reach with the visitor industry that we don’t have. It’s easy for NOAA to get the message to local residents but we can’t reach the visitor, who is an important stakeholder in preserving our reefs.”
This year, two international conferences that will focus on the world’s reef systems will take place on O‘ahu: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Council’s World Conservation Congress in September and the International Coral Reef Symposium in June.
“The IUCN World Conservation Congress is like the Olympics; the group has only met every four years since the 1950s,” Kelley says. “And the U.S. has never once hosted this weeklong conference, which will give us a chance to show Hawai‘i’s reefs and present our OZONE initiatives.”
Find out more at www.Outrigger.com/OZONE.
A longtime food and travel writer, Simplicio brings humor and life to his stories, which have included travelogues that have chronicled visits to French Polynesia and the Society Islands to Vietnam and Montreal.