Diving, Coral Reefs, And Learning About Sustainable Tourism In The Dominican Republic

Coral reefs are huge underwater structures and some of the most diverse ecosystems in the entire world. These incredible configurations are composed of the skeletons from colonial marine invertebrates called coral and about 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs to survive. Coral reefs can be found all over the world’s oceans, including in the Dominican Republic where they are extremely important for biodiversity, habitat, and beaches. Climate change is noticeably affecting coral reef ecosystems resulting in ocean acidification from increased greenhouse gases caused by human activity. When the oceans get warmer it causes thermal stress and this contributes to coral bleaching and disease.

“Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific evidence now clearly indicates that the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases derived from human activities.” National Ocean Service

On our recent trip to the Dominican Republic my son and I learned about the importance of coral reefs, we visited a coral nursery, and swam in the Caribbean Sea among the fish that we so badly want to protect from climate change. We stayed at the five-star Iberostar Selection Bávaro in Punta Cana, located at the magical place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, and checked out their on-land Coral Lab on Playa Bávaro that was just steps away from our adorable villa.

In 2017 Iberostar, a family-owned Spanish hotel chain, launched Wave of Change, a movement to protect oceans and improve coastal health and move even more towards a responsible tourism model focused on people and the environment. Then in 2019 Iberostar made huge progress and launched their first on-land coral lab in the Dominican Republic. By the end of 2021 they had four coral nurseries in three countries including two in Mexico and one in Jamaica.

“Iberostar is fully committed to helping find solutions to protect and restore coral reefs which have been declining at unprecedented rates in the last century…Healthy reefs are a key party of healthy tourism which is why Iberostar’s commitment to improve coastal health (through the discovery, protection, and restoration of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses) is a key component of Wave of Change.” – Wave of Change

In addition to helping improve overall coral health, Iberostar’s Wave of Change movement aims to protect coral from bleaching, diseases, and hurricanes. Their scientists attempt to rescue damaged coral and learn about climate-resilient reef restoration. The work they are doing is crucial because a quarter of all marine species depend on coral reefs. Healthy coral reefs provide food, habitat, and spawning grounds for over a million species. This remarkable lab is located along the shore and home to four 1,200-liter tanks, four 500-liter tanks and four control systems where future marine conditions are simulated. Guests of the resort are encouraged to visit the coral lab and learn about protecting our oceans.

In 2020 all Iberostar hotels became single-use plastic free and at the Bávaro resort they launched a national mangrove restoration program that protects mangroves and seagrass. They even have their own composting plant that transforms organic waste from the resort into garden compost. Other sustainable tourism goals at Iberostar include being waste-free by 2025 and carbon-neutral by 2030.

Some of the best reefs in the Dominican Republic are located in Bayahibe, about an hour drive from Punta Cana. This stunning beach area is far from crowds and surrounded by coconut trees, soft white sand, and stunning turquoise water that sparkles under the sun. The area is also home to spectacular snorkeling and diving spots so you can see the marine life and ecosystems that people are trying to protect. Dressel Divers offers scuba diving excursions and has a dive center directly on the beach of the Iberostar Selection Hacienda Dominicus, another impressive five-star resort with a coral nursery, but in the ocean.

Diving lessons start in the resort’s large swimming pool with training from a knowledgeable PADI instructor (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), before you head out in a boat and sail along the Caribbean Sea. It’s crucial to know how to equalize your ears and sinuses before you go down into the water and become familiar with the hand signals you will use with your instructor throughout the dive.

It was my son’s first open water dive and he was whisked off to Coco Reef with his instructor, a location with a maximum diving depth of 12 meters with calm water. It’s home to the magical coral nursery that is now packed with tropical fish and sea creatures such as squid, octopus, and seahorses. My son has always loved reading about fish and watching videos of them and he told me afterwards he recognized several species swimming right past his face.

It takes learning to a whole new level when kids see first-hand the benefits of what people are doing to protect our oceans from climate change and restore the coral reefs. Our adventures in the Dominican Republic were incredible, but his time spent swimming at Coco Reef learning how to breathe underwater surrounded by sea life will always be what ignited his passion for scuba diving.

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