Did you know that non-organic land management can have negative impacts on coral reef ecosystems? Research shows that synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers quickly make their way from land to ocean. These chemicals can accumulate in fish and inhibit reproduction in both fish and corals.
While it is easy to think that your own small garden practices won’t impact larger environments, even the smallest amount of chemicals can damage ecosystems over time.
Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has been researching these chemicals’ effects on coral reef ecosystems and human health. We are working with resorts in south Maui to make the switch to organic alternatives, and we encourage homeowners and our community to join us! Going organic helps create healthy, thriving, and biodiverse soil communities which make for happy plants and lawns, leading to low-maintenance care and cost savings in the future.
The toxic cycle – plant to reef to plate
This is where the cycle begins. Homeowners and landscapers spray pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers on their lawns, golf courses and gardens. Common pesticides include RoundupTM, Permethrin, Imidacloprid, Atrazine and Malathion. A study by insect ecologist, David Pimentel, Ph.D shows that less than 0.1% of pesticides that are applied for pest control actually reach the pests. This means that more than 99.9% of these chemicals end up affecting the surrounding environment more than the targeted pests!
Synthetic fertilizers provide nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) to plants, but lack other fundamental elements that plants need such as calcium and magnesium. Synthetic fertilizers dissolve into water which make them easily transported to our waterways through runoff. They feed the plant, not the soil, which makes for only a short term garden solution.
Through soil seepage and runoff, pesticides make their way into our oceans (and groundwater). Pesticides and herbicides are linked to coral bleaching, a reduction in coral settlement and metamorphosis, feminization of organisms, fish disease, increased risk of fish predation, reproductive effects, developmental effects, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.
Herbicides inhibit organisms from photosynthesizing, which is how most corals and phytoplankton get their food and energy to grow and combat stressors such as ocean acidification and climate change. Without phytoplankton (a major food source for fish, rays, and mollusks) food chains would crumble. This photosynthesis process also produces oxygen which is important for the whole reef ecosystem.
When synthetic fertilizers reach the ocean and increase the amount of nutrients, algae blooms result. These blooms decrease sunlight penetration which is needed for photosynthesis. When the algae die, oxygen-breathing bacteria break it down, using up the oxygen in the surrounding waters. This leads to “dead zones” and fish die offs.
The increase in nutrients also allows non-native seaweed to grow. This seaweed is rich in an amino acid called arginine. Consuming arginine leads to fibropapillomatosis in sea turtles, which causes tumor growth. Honu (green sea turtles) are especially vulnerable. To read more on this, click here.
Not only do chemically derived “plant food” and pesticides have significant impacts on coral reefs, but both consumption and contact with these chemicals have serious human health impacts. Pesticides can be stored and accumulated in edible fatty tissues of fish that we eat. Non-organic products also have trace amounts of these toxic chemicals. Human health effects linked to these pesticides include cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, brain developmental issues in children, damage to cognitive function, endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, birth/developmental effects and skin irritation. To learn more about human health impacts, take a look at our references linked at the bottom of this page.
What can YOU do?
- If you garden or have landscapers maintain your land, switch to organic land management and avoid using synthetic pesticides and herbicides, as well as synthetic fertilizers.
- Ask your community association or property management company at your home or business to avoid using these toxic chemicals.
- Buy organically grown produce and plants.
- Encourage your local government to stop the use of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers at parks, ballfields, golf courses and other public lands.
- Encourage your friends, neighbors, and community members to look for safer organic for controlling insect and weed pests.
Many believe that the switch to organic land management is too difficult, costly, and often unsuccessful. However, thousands of farmers, counties, golf courses, and resorts have successfully switched to organic land management, and saved money in the process.
The Westin Maui Resort and Spa in Ka’anapali has converted to organic land management. Other communities that have switched to organic land care include:
Irvine City, CA — Public parks
Middletown, CT — Municipality-owned property
Edgartown, MA — Vineyard Golf Course
Yosemite National Park, CA — Wawona Golf Course
Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and Beyond Pesticides (a nonprofit organization aimed toward protecting humans and the environment through chemical-free landcare) are working together to help local resorts, condominium neighborhoods, and Maui County parks make the switch.