Environmental justice author Sandy Sheehy suggests new strategies for coral reef protection

Sandy Sheehy recently presented her new, non-fiction book, Imperiled Reef: The Fascinating and Fragile Life of a Caribbean Wonder at the 2021 Miami Book Fair.

She urged government protection and citizen awareness of the 625-mile long Meso-American Barrier Reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

Sheehy’s book is the culmination of her research on the reef, which can be found along the Eastern Coast of Central America. After diving in this area for the last 40 years, she believes that collaboration between local communities and government agencies on a regional and national level can save this reef from destruction.

“There’s been an enormous change in the last 20 years or so, and I think it’s helped make conservation of ecosystems more effective,” she explained. “It’s not cultural sensitivity for the sake of cultural sensitivity. The idea here is that indigenous people working on this land might have some thoughts about preserving it.”

Sandy Sheehy (Courtesy of Sandy Sheehy)

The author said that indigenous land in Central and South America used to be overrun by scientists from colonial powers. She advises people to make donations to organizations that prioritize collaboration in their activism and research.

“Unlike the eco-colonialism days, scientists are now training local people to actually be citizen scientists and help monitor the environment,” Sheehy says. “When you’re thinking about making contributions, think about whether a nonprofit organization or foundation has that community-based involvement. Support them.”

Not only does Sheehy provide historical context for these issues in her book, but she also has suggestions for what average citizens can do in their own lives to help coral reefs.

The seasoned scuba diver encourages people to practice eco-conscious tourism and get involved in the local communities they travel to.

“If you’re staying in a family guesthouse on a beach in Belize, you’re probably going to get to know the people there,” she said. “Instead of eating all of your meals in restaurants or in hotels, you can go out to the market. You can buy fresh fish from someone who is selling it off of a boat. You can buy citrus from a woman who’s selling it in a stall. That’s a richer travel experience.”

She explains further that people will be more inclined to protect places like the Meso-American Barrier Reef if they experience the culture surrounding it. 

“Also, when you do those things you become more conscious of political challenges, so you are more likely to put pressure on policymakers as well.”

Sheehy hopes that individuals and communities will be inspired by the stories in Imperiled Reef and advocate for the protection of coral reefs all over the world. 

Imperiled Reef: The Fascinating and Fragile Life of a Carribean Wonder is now on sale for purchase nationwide.

Taylor Gutierrez is a Cuban-American digital journalism student and intends to pursue a career as a multimedia journalist, combining her passions for writing and photography. Gutierrez currently works as a Communications Associate for FIU's Institute of Environment where she discusses issues within the field of environmental science. She hopes her writing will help bridge the gap in communication between media consumers and the scientific research community.