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Commentary: Reef rescue: Go vegan for the ocean

Rebecca Libauskas, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on

Published in Op Eds

The ocean is a beautiful backdrop for many of our memories. But are we destroying our summertime sanctuary with our food choices? Coral reefs—often called the “rainforests of the sea”—are home to more than 25% of marine life. They also play a critical role in protecting coastlines, absorbing 97% of wave, storm and flood energy. Going vegan is the most powerful thing anyone can do to save these aquatic rainforests, so for Coral Reef Awareness Week (July 15–21), let’s ditch meat (including “seafood”), eggs and dairy.

If the ocean were a pot of salt water on a stove, then animal agriculture would be the heat bringing it to a boil. Animals raised for food generate substantial emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide and methane, through digestion and in manure. Methane—more than 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide—contributes significantly to the climate catastrophe. And animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Global temperatures have shattered records for the past 12 consecutive months. And as the world smolders, the ocean bears the brunt of the heat—around 90% of the heat generated by increased greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. The changing climate is a leading cause of coral bleaching, which occurs when coral is stressed (as it is by higher temperatures) and expels the algae that inhabit it. If the high temperatures persist, the coral won’t allow the algae to return and will eventually die. Changes in ocean temperature can also affect marine life, including the distribution of species and the timing of biological events such as reproduction.

But greenhouse gases aren’t the only way the cruel animal agriculture industry destroys coral reefs. Waste from animals raised for food pollutes waterways, eventually reaching the reefs and causing severe damage. And cultivating crops to feed billions of animals involves chemicals like those found in pesticides and fertilizers, which also cause pollution that can lead to coral bleaching.

Another reason to go vegan? Fishing is a major contributor to plastic pollution, which is another grave threat to coral reefs. A study in Nature found that up to 75% of plastic pollution on coral reefs comes from abandoned fishing equipment, known as “ghost gear.” Destructive fishing methods, like blast fishing, can obliterate 64 square feet of reef in a single explosion. And commercial practices such as bottom-trawling and long-lining strip the ocean floor of life, devastating coral reefs.

Fish experience pain, form friendships and enjoy playing games. Some fish even have longer attention spans than humans. They are complex animals who use squeaks and squeals to “talk” to each other and various forms of body language to give directions or signal potential dangers. They don’t want to die for anyone’s fish fry. Likewise, animals raised for food on land want to live. Yet they’re forced to suffer in overcrowded, filthy conditions until they’re crammed onto a truck destined for the slaughterhouse. We can help all animals simply by leaving them off our plates.

 

There are many vegan fish products on the market today. The vegan fish market is projected to surge from $183 million to $2.19 billion by 2033, so even more options will likely be hitting grocery store shelves. Vegan fish can help reduce the demand for aquatic animals as food, allowing populations to recover and supporting reef health. Healthy fish contribute to the biodiversity of coral reefs, which is essential to their resilience and ability to repair damage caused by environmental stress.

Vegan living is an easy, powerful and compassionate way to help heal the planet’s human-inflicted wounds and build a future where coral reefs can thrive. So in honor of Coral Reef Awareness Week, let’s remember that animals are friends—not food.

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Rebecca Libauskas is a climate research specialist for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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