We like to preserve things that we think are beautiful—moments, places and people. That is the essence of taking souvenirs. The irony of it all is that when you take something away from a space or a moment, it instantly becomes less beautiful. A vial of sand or a collection of shells on a shelf in no way compares to the beauty that they embody in their natural habitat. This obsession with taking souvenirs has become our form of preservation when it is actually quite the opposite.

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The biggest victim of our souvenir mentality are coral reefs. Coral are living organisms that eat, grow and reproduce, yet we treat them like a commodity. Coral is a popular ocean souvenir that is often used to decorate homes or create costume jewelry. The increased harvesting of coral is endangering reefs, the community structures in which they grow. It takes decades for corals to create these communities, and when harvesting occurs it presents a danger to the surrounding coral and the ecosystem that it supports. Because of harvesting, future coral growth is stunted and many ocean creatures are left without a home.

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The best way for us to appreciate coral is from afar. Divers should not touch them and should avoid stirring up any of the ocean sediment around them, as it could muddle their oxygen. For those who do not dare to venture that deep into the ocean, be mindful of the sunscreen that is worn when wading in the shallow waters. Certain chemicals in sunscreen, namely oxybenzone, have been known to drain coral of its nutrients and turn them a sickly white.

If our intention truly is to share the beauty that we have experienced with others, then the best way to do so is to protect it. Do your part to respect our oceans and save our coral reefs.