Clean Water for Reefs


The Threat: Land-based pollution

Clean water is vital for both communities and coral reefs. Around the world, water pollution from land-based sources causes severe damage to coral reefs, poses risks to human health and threatens the tourism industry. Directly discharged sewage and inadequately treated wastewater from cesspools and septic tanks allow high levels of nutrients, bacteria, chemicals and pathogens to enter the marine environment. Other land-based activities—like farming, logging, road construction, animal husbandry and mining—produce pollutants such as sediments, fertilizers and pesticides which run off the landscape when it rains and end up in the ocean. An overabundance of nutrients (called eutrophication) in marine environments upsets the delicate balance of coral reef ecosystems. For example, excess nitrogen from wastewater or fertilizer enables the overgrowth of algae which can kill corals by smothering them, blocking their access to sunlight and promoting the growth of harmful bacteria. High levels of sediment runoff can also kill corals by suffocating them and blocking their access to sunlight.

Our Solution: Clean Water for Reefs

CORAL utilizes the following conservation strategies and actions to protect coral reef ecosystems from land-based pollution:

  1. Scientifically monitor water quality to understand the nature of the problem (e.g., source, magnitude) and identify solutions.
  2. Build and update ineffective wastewater treatment infrastructure (e.g., cesspools), in collaboration with local governments and communities
  3. Build awareness among community members, local governments and the tourism industry about the detrimental effects of poor water quality on human health and the environment.
  4. Reduce sediment and nutrient delivery to coastal waters by motivating shoreline property owners to employ reef-friendly best practices.
  5. Restore streams, watersheds and riparian vegetation to create healthy watersheds that capture and stabilize nutrients and sediments and prevent them from reaching the ocean.
Clean Water for Reefs Puakō

This community-driven initiative seeks to reduce the amount of untreated wastewater reaching the nearshore environment in Puakō, Hawai‘i Island. CORAL is working with the Puakō community, local government officials, scientists and other nonprofit organizations to replace cesspools with a wastewater treatment facility that will create healthier living conditions for both corals and people.

Clean Water for Reefs Maui

In West Maui, our work focuses on restoring the natural function of a watershed to filter stormwater and absorb nutrients, sediments and other chemicals. At the shoreline, we provide guidance to resort property owners, the tourism industry and Maui County on how to implement reef-friendly landscape design and make use of reclaimed water. Further inland, we pilot stream restoration techniques that combine modern technology with native vegetation and traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices.

Clean Water for Reefs Honduras

Our work to resolve chronic wastewater pollution problems in Honduras has resulted in measurable improvements to coastal water quality and has set the stage for addressing wastewater pollution across the southern MAR. Thanks to our efforts with partners in West End, Roatán, over 23 million gallons of sewage per year are now being treated. We are currently collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank to update and improve wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Bay Islands and coastal Honduras.