Coral restoration projects are popping up more and more these days. This is for several reasons; There is more awareness of the importance of the reef systems and the need to protect them, and also to help restore the reefs that have been damaged by overfishing, bad diving practices or boat traffic. Many dive centers are supporting such projects, which are either conducted by the dive center itself or they help fund an outside organization to do it. It is becoming more common to show fun divers the coral tables during a dive, or in some places (such as the ‘Junkyard’ in Koh Tao) you can complete an entire dive on an artificial reef which are more often than not, booming with life.
What is Coral Restoration?
Coral restoration projects are regularly known as coral farming or coral gardening. They are known to be an effective way to help restore the world’s reefs. The idea behind it is to give the corals a helping hand by bypassing the early stages of their growth (where the fertilized coral polyps need to find substrate to attach to) as this is when they are at the highest risk of dying. This is normally done by attaching a fragmented piece of coral onto a hard substrate, and nursing it until it is large enough to fend for itself on the reef, at which point it will be reattached and monitored. In order to reattach the coral there must be substrate to do it. This could either part of the existing, degraded reef or it items could be dropped onto the seabed, such as large tires, wrecks (ships, cars or any other solid metal surface) or just solid lumps of concrete.
There is also an option known as a “Biorock” which is a steel (usually dome shaped) structure, which has a low voltage electrical current passed through it, which will crystallize dissolved minerals from sea water onto it. This results in the Biorock being coated in the same mineral that makes natural coral reefs. Corals will rapidly colonize the structures. The electrical current also accelerates the formation of both the limestone rock, and the skeletons of corals. These have proven to be quite successful, although not repairing the already degraded reefs, they replace them with new, healthy reefs.
Coral gardening takes a lot of work and effort. First of all the fragments need to be collected and attached to some form of substrate. A good method for this is to also collect rubble from the reefs and attach the fragment to the rubble. This must be done quickly as coral does not survive for long out of the water. This can be done by using cable ties, or a non-toxic glue. Once attached it must be placed back into the water in optimal conditions. This is normally done on what’s called a coral table, a basic structure where the corals can be placed and monitored while they grow. Algae grows rapidly where coral grows, and it can be a constant battle between the algae and coral for the substrate to grow on. As algae grows much quicker than coral, degraded reefs are normally covering in various algae species and corals have no chance to grow. Coral tables are no different and if left for only a couple of weeks they will be covered in algae, so it is important that they are cleaned regularly, but without physically touching the corals. This is normally done by divers with a tooth brush, and just requires everywhere (except the coral) being scrubbed to remove the algae. Once the coral fragments have grown enough they can be transported onto the reef or artificial reef, and then they need to be monitored for growth and again, the algae must be kept at bay otherwise it will hinder the corals growth.
There are many organizations out there who are currently taking part in coral restoration projects. The more help they can get, the more reef they can restore. Many of them will take volunteers, which can be a great thing to do during your dive career. This is especially important in areas where fishing has caused massive destruction to the reefs, so if you are looking to take part in any of these projects I would recommend looking more towards Africa, Asia and Central America than Australia or North America.
‘Coral Restoration’ was written by Mike
Photo Credit: www.coralrestoration.org – Keep up the great work guys!
Ever wondered what Coral actually is? Check out our blog all about Coral!