Here is a very succinct answer to this important question from Protect the Maldives, who gave me permission to share it here:
"The reefs are dying. How can tourists help?
Coral reefs on the Maldives have had massive damages due to the 2016 bleaching event. In the snorkelling area from 0 to 5 m you will see mostly dead corals. Visible degradation will take 2-3 years (from death of coral to mechanical breakdown of its skeletonal structure). The reefs right now are like a patient, a convalescent, and there is no intensive-care-unit. The stress must be minimized if we want to help. The reefs can only recover under ideal surroundings. Every polyp counts. We have to hope that surviving corals spawn, that larvae find a spot on a reef and start growing there. From Zero. It will take 5, 10 or 15 years until we see beautiful reefs again, but we want YOU to help right now. Here are some recommendations:
- Reduce mechanical stress —> don’t step on the now dead reef structures. There might be young and hardly visible re-growth. Be careful when snorkeling, diving or kayaking.
- Reduce chemical stress —> inform yourself about reef-friendly sunscreens, they exist (tropicalsnorkeling.com/best-snorkeling-sunsc…). We recommend physical protection (shirts, trousers) over chemical protection.
- Try to save water —> every towel being washed, every shower with chemicals counts if you want to reduce the chemical stress because your waste water is being led into the reef.
- Avoid sedimentation —> while snorkelling or diving try not to stir up sediments, which could cover corals and hinder their growth.
- Take back your rubbish. Every piece that leaves Maldives again will not harm the local environment.
- Don’t feed the fish. The ecological balance is now disturbed heavily by the decline of corals and the increase of algae. Amount of fish that feed on algae will increase heavily while those feeding on corals will diminish. Feeding fish is an additional intrusion in this balance.
- Inform yourself about the resort before booking. Prefer resorts that show efforts to help the reefs or that show signs of sustainability efforts in general. Resorts should now be double aware that it is their duty to show some ecological action — support them by choosing them.
- Educate yourself and others. Learn about reef ecology. Talk to the local staff or resident marine biologists. Maybe even engage in local actions, e.g. reef cleanups, artificial reef structure building …
- Support organisations who care.
It is not much we can do, but every single action counts."
Protect The Maldives