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Photo of individual's thoughtless act of vandalism underwater sparks anger for safety of marine life: 'Take only pictures, leave only bubbles'

"I really really hope this coral recovers."

"I really really hope this coral recovers."

Photo Credit: iStock

A viral Reddit post has shown the heartbreaking vandalism done by a diver to a coral reef, sparking dismay among social media users. 

A photo shows the name "Charlie" scrawled onto a piece of coral on the ocean floor. The name appears to have been carved or chalked onto the fragile marine creature. 

"Charlie kills years worth of coral growth," the caption claims. 

"I really really hope this coral recovers."
Photo Credit: Reddit

Tourism's accidental damage to coral reefs is already bad enough — careless divers may break off pieces of coral by standing on it, or trigger a stress response by kicking it, which can cause coral bleaching.

Coral enjoys a symbiotic relationship with an algae species called zooxanthellae, which is its primary food source and provides its vivid color. But when coral becomes stressed, it expels the algae, giving it a bleached appearance. 

Bleaching events are becoming more regular as the planet experiences increasingly extreme temperatures. Even a water temperature hike of 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit can cause coral bleaching

Ordinarily, zooxanthellae transforms sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. But in warmer temperatures, it cannot do this as efficiently and instead turns the excess sunlight into toxins. To survive, the coral must get rid of the algae.

Bleached coral is not dead, but it is more susceptible to starvation and infection. In many cases, bleached coral fails to recover — in 2005, one mass bleaching event wiped out half of the U.S.'s coral reefs in Caribbean waters. 

Over half of the world's coral reefs have disappeared since 1950, with 14% lost in the past decade alone. 

This makes deliberate damage by tourists all the more galling. If diver fins and oxygen tanks brushing against the reef can cause stress to the coral, then gouging letters onto its surface certainly will. 

Sadly, this type of careless behavior towards marine life is not uncommon. Other divers have tagged their names on endangered coral reefs in Bali, Guam, and Thailand

This has prompted some lawmakers to take action. Under Indonesian law, those who commit vandalism against coral reefs can be imprisoned for two years and fined 2 billion rupiah.

In 2016, a diving operator was ordered to rehabilitate one hectare of coral reefs in the Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area after being found guilty of vandalism. 

At the time, I Nyoman Karyawan, head of the Nusa Penida MPA management team, called for a "resocialization" to make the reef's visitors more mindful of its fragile ecosystem. 

As for Charlie, Redditors have been unanimous in their condemnation. 

"He's a piece of s***," one wrote.

"I really really hope this coral recovers," said another. 

"'Take only pictures, leave only bubbles' was the first thing my diving instructor taught us," another commented

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