Coral Gardening with Island Spirit in Fiji
Coral Gardening with Island Spirit in Fiji
On all our trips we give you the chance to help us restore coral reefs by planting corals.
Snorkel equipment, gloves and reef shoes are required to collect live but broken coral from the sandy seabed. Once collected and placed in a kayak or similar floating device it is transplanted in secure rock crevices and cracks. It is essential to find areas which the coral root can be plugged firmly into as it can take months for it to take root and the smallest swell can dislodge it.
It has been noted that a coral will 'take hold' in as little as a month and if planted well will has a 90% success rate, conversely, if planted badly there is a 90% death rate.
We coral garden in the shallow reef around northern and eastern Taveuni. The process is simple and effective (if comprehensive training is provided). Whilst gardening it is easy to do damage to living coral with snorkel fins so relatively confident swimmers are needed.
Coral gardening gives reefs a minimum of a 5 year head start to its development or restoration. As it develops the fish populations start to increase rapidly and the whole ocean cycle is enriched. We monitor the reefs and put the developments in our blog.
The latest scientific theory is if a decimated reef is left to its own devices it will take 50 years to establish itself again. Around Taveuni coral gardening has helped the reef re-establish itself in just one year. It is believed that corals send out signals that let other corals know it is safe to live in the area. This image shows an area of the shallow reef which was planted just one month before the photo was taken in late 2011.
We train community members to remove overabundant coral-killing predators and to replant corals broken by careless divers and storms. Healthy coral reefs need clean water low in muddy silt and low in pollution with abundant fish and other animals that in turn keep the corals clean and free of major predator outbreaks.
While coral gardening is useful on degraded reefs, we are very aware that the longer-term solution requires addressing the root causes of decline. Any reef- no matter how healthy, if visited by thousands of tourists annually will decline over time. Coral gardening, if actively applied to such highly-used reefs can help manage the inadvertent damage caused by this.
Fiji hosts some of the most beautiful and diverse reef systems on earth. It is often referred to as the ‘Soft coral capital of the world’. Deep drop-offs, endless hard coral fields and huge channels with strong currents are just some of the underwater landscapes creating a unique experience.
Did you know that two thirds of the earths surface is water and that 80% of life on earth lives in the ocean. For generations coastal communities have depended on coral reefs to supply their primary food source.
Increasing populations in developing countries within which coral reefs often occur, has led to the need for coastal communities to learn about sustainable resource management to ensure the continuation of future harvests.
Billions of dollars are spent each year on recreational fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and diving tours near reef ecosystems creating livelihoods for an enormous number of people worldwide. Reefs are a natural barrier against waves, storm surge and floods.
There are more species per unit area of coral reef than in any other ecosystem. It is estimated that less than 10% of the Earth’s reef organisms are known to science. Corals may look superficially like plants, but in fact each polyp feeds on passing food parcels floating in the marine plankton.
Coral reefs are being degraded at a rate of 2% a year. About a fifth of the world’s stock has already gone, and nearly half of the remainder is in danger of disappearing within the next 20 years.
There are 109 countries with coral reefs. In 90 of them reefs are being damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists (Earth Portal). Coral reefs are one of our plant’s greatest natural attractions.
Due to their abundance of species and great ecological complexity they are frequently compared to tropical rain forests. But, in terms of sheer abundance of readily observable animal life, even the mighty rain forest takes a back seat.
In the rain forest one must be either lucky or a trained observer to watch many of the animal inhabitants involved in their daily activities. But even a first time snorkeler will be absolutely overwhelmed by the parade of exotic life forms on a coral reef.
Crown of Thorns
Crown of Thorns
Crown of thorns clearance in an applied conservation project which is easy to learn and just takes a little practise to perfect.
Crown-of-thorns are one of the most damaging creatures of tropical coral reefs. They are voracious predators that release the contents of their stomach on to the coral. Digestive juices then liquefy the coral ready for consumption. One Crown-of-thorn can devour 65 sq. ft. of reef per year.
The Crown-of-thorns is the second largest Seastar; the largest is the Sunflower Starfish, it receives its name from the venomous thorns that cover its body. They are endemic to the Red Sea and the Indian and Pacific Ocean and they can be found wherever there are tropical reef systems.
They are almost completely covered in protective venomous spines capable of causing great pain in humans. The most alarming survival mechanism they possess is when they are stressed out; they immediately start their fertilization cycle and simultaneously release a pheromone or chemical hormone that creates a chain reaction with every Crown-of-thorns in the area to trigger their fertilisation mechanisms.
Their venomous spines are not tempting to most predators but there are a few that will take on the Crown-of-thorns. In spite of this, the Giant Triton (a mollusk or snail and the ones that we sometimes use or call a conch which is blown during tiki torch lighting ceremonies). Harlequin Shrimp and some of the larger reef fish like the Humphead Wrasse (rare in Fiji) and sometimes Triggerfish (but they tend to prefer sea urchins as they are easily blown over). No matter how they have appeared an outbreak must be stopped to ensure the survival of the reef.
Achieved So Far
We are constantly clearing the crown f thorns whenever we visit either Beverly Campground in Taveuni. We also clear at the Beach House and other village homestay locations.
It is hard to record the impact of the removal process but our philosophy is 'ever little counts'. We have seen such a devastating coral bleaching epidemic since January 2014 that anything which threatens reef life should be stopped as soon as we can.