All Posts /

Earth Day: Coral Reefs

Earth Day: Coral Reefs

Editor’s note: Today is Earth Day! Let’s celebrate today and every day by carefully tending to this beautiful planet God lent to us.

The Heaven of Heavens is for God, but He put us in charge of the earth. — Psalm 115:16 MSG


Earth’s Underwater Playground

In His teaching the islands will put their hope. — Isaiah 42:4 NIV

What Is Coral?

Corals are animals. Their soft bodies have rotund bases with tentacles (each one is called a polyp) extending up into the water. They may look like plants attached to rocks and hard surfaces, but the coral polyps move, expanding and contracting in the water. These animals construct the giant sea architecture of the reefs. The corals build layer upon layer of the limestone reefs, which become habitat for fish, urchins, sponges, sharks, rays, lobster, octopus, snails, and more.


Corals are more than admirable architects of the marine realm; they are indispensable to us and to the planet. In addition to providing opportunities for recreational activities like snorkeling, they protect coasts from storm damage and support the local economy. We also count on them as a food source, and we’ve discovered medicinal products in their ecosystems. More than half a billion people rely on coral reefs for food, income, and protection. If putting a price on it is helpful for grasping the magnitude of coral reef benefits, the net economic value of the world’s coral reefs is estimated to be nearly tens of billions of US dollars per year.1 We also must consider their inherent, priceless worth as our oceans’ natural treasures.


God built His creation to work holistically, and when everything is in balance, the results can be absolutely dazzling. You see, the corals are made up of multiple species living closely together in harmony. The algae and coral need each other for nutrition and protection —  they can’t survive without one another.

Symbiotic Ecosystem

This symbiotic relationship between microbe and fauna also gives the corals their signature bright colors. God saw that it was good to meet the practical needs of coral reefs in a way that makes them captivating. He provides for His creation and makes it beautiful all at once.

How can this underwater symbiotic design teach us to interact with nature? Well, given that about 40 percent of the world’s population live near our coasts, we Christians need to champion the symbiosis that God designed for these ecosystems. We work, play, learn, fish, eat, and live our lives right by these amazing coastal habitats and share the space daily. We must acknowledge that we are in relationship with these reefs, and we have been blessed with an opportunity to preserve them.

  • Coral reefs are God’s underwater gardens and a legacy of His creative work, which we’re called to look after.

One of the hesitancies Christians have in engaging with and enjoying the natural world is the fear of worshiping nature rather than the Creator. To sharpen our discernment on this topic, it’s helpful to contrast the Christian mentality with what it’s not — pantheism. In its simplistic definition, pantheism is the belief that God is everything. There is no distinction made between God and the universe.

The key distinction for Christian creation theology is that it upholds God’s transcendence and immanence. In other words, no matter how mysteriously close (immanent) His Spirit is with living beings and all of nature, He is ultimately separate (transcendent) from it in essence. God became part of the physical fabric of the universe, and “put on matter,” when He became incarnate in Jesus.

When our appreciation for nature’s beauty is linked to our gratitude toward its provision through and connection to Christ, we can confidently enjoy creation, including the magnificent coral reefs, and give God glory.

Trusting God

As caretakers of nature, we should be careful taking from it excessively. Pursuing money and idolizing wealth and prosperity is a sin issue in our hearts, and the irony is that when we carelessly overfish our reefs or opt for modes of transportation that emit carbon dioxide, we also harm ourselves in the long run.

Greedy actions like these often stem from our fear that we will not have enough or be provided for. But as we can see from God’s design in nature, He will provide for us. That’s who He is. He is a provider. Look at the reefs. The corals absorb tiny algae with their tentacles, the seahorses find homes in the crannies and nooks of the reefs, and the clownfish find refuge in the anemones. Every unique creature is considered and provided for by God’s evolutionary design in coral reefs, and the result is beautiful. How much more will the Father take care of us and give us the good things we need (Matthew 7:11)? We can rest knowing that God provides for His creation, and this comfort can stir us to be generous toward nature, particularly the reefs.


Mindfully Visit Tourist Spots as a Gracious, Green Guest


Coastal and marine tourism supports more than 6.5 million jobs.2 However, tourism and increasing coastal development can also be a source of harm to coastal environments. Be aware of your actions as a tourist when you travel, and leave the area better than you found it.


  • If you dive or snorkel, don’t touch or disrupt corals. Stirring up sediment can smother corals. Admire only!
  • Don’t purchase coral products as souvenirs. Find a cool shark figurine, snazzy airbrushed T-shirt, or literally anything else not taken from the sea.
  • Avoid dropping your boat anchor or chain near a coral reef; look for a sandy bottom or use available moorings.
  • Chemicals in sunscreen can accumulate in coral tissues and cause bleaching, damage, deformation, and even death. Protect your skin and protect coral — buy only marine-friendly sunscreen. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) sunscreen webpage for more information.


  • Building new homes, businesses, resorts, and hotels on the coast requires dredging and intense construction on beaches. Dirt and debris can pile up in the ocean and block coral from sunlight, causing bleaching and death.
  • Coastal development projects are a huge undertaking, and there are regulations and policies that need to be put in place and/or better enforced. Advocacy opportunities are important for coastal communities to stand up for their coastal areas.
  • If you don’t live near a coast, when you visit as a tourist, look into the resort or place you are choosing to stay. Sewage dumping from tourist complexes is a major issue. The sewage smothers coral, causes algal overgrowth, and can prevent corals from recovering after bleaching events.3 Inquire into the waste management practices of your tourist destination.

Be Responsible for the Reefs, No Matter Your Location


  • Whether you are landlocked or live on the coast, cleaning up your local watershed can ultimately affect bodies of water and habitats downstream.
  • Avoid sending chemicals into our waterways by eliminating or significantly reducing use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
  • Pick up litter in a neighborhood or city area with a church group; especially target trash near stormwater drains.


  • Whether you live near the coast or plan on visiting a beach in the future, you can get involved in beach or reef cleanups (best excuse to visit the beach!).
  • Visit the websites for the Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Blue Project, or a local coastal organization to learn about opportunities to help.
  • If you plan on visiting the Florida Keys in particular, bear in mind that reef systems off the coast are struggling with coral disease outbreaks and are extra sensitive to any form of pollution.

Choose Sustainable Seafood

Make sure the seafood you consume comes from a fishery that’s not contributing to crashing fish populations. Fish are an important part of the coastal food web, and they also help keep algae in check that could otherwise outcompete and smother coral.


  • We don’t have to give up seafood altogether, but we do need to make sure our seafood is sustainably sourced to prevent overfishing.
  • Look for various certification labels including the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Global Seafood Alliance, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Friend of the Sea, and Naturland.


  • Join a community-supported fishery (CSF) and help support local fishermen and promote sustainable practices. Visit to find a CSF near you.
  • If a CSF isn’t an option for you, be inquisitive and choosy about your seafood purchases. Ask retailers and restaurants about their fishing sources.


 Some helpful guides include Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, Ocean Wise, FishWatch, and WWF seafood guides on its website and iPhone app.

Support Nonprofits

1.“Coral Reef Ecosystems,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
2.Robert Brumbaugh, “Healthy Coral Reefs Are Good for Tourism—And Tourism Can Be Good for Reefs,” World Economic Forum, June 21, 2017,
3.“Managing Wastewater to Support Coral Reef Health, Resilience,” UN Environment Programme, November 27, 2018,

Excerpted with permission from A Christian’s Guide to Planet Earth by Betsy Painter, copyright Karen Elizabeth Painter.

* * *

Your Turn

Happy Earth Day! Look outside today and notice the beauty! Also notice what could use protection and care. It’s our honor and privilege to care for the planet. Come share your thoughts on keeping it clean and not polluting the land and sea. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily