Oct 13, 2020

Super Corals Replanted the Most Bleaching Impacted Reefs on Earth: Christmas Atoll, Kiribati

Making coral fragment leis for out-planting
Making coral fragment leis for out-planting

In spite of a spreading pandemic, I was able to travel to Christmas Island Kiribati with our C4C board member Simi Koto in early March.  While I focused on the coral nurseries, Koto focused on land-based livelihoods and agricultural self sufficiency as we work with communities to increase prosperity through better managment of natural resources and nature, including proposed no-fishing areas to help restore the coral reefs.

The coral reefs of Christmas Atoll experienced extremely hot water and an associated mass coral bleaching event that lasted for 14 months in 2015-2016, and that killed 95% of all corals and >>99% of branching corals.  The reefs are now dominated by dead coral rock, and a toxic microalgae has covered the rocks, working its way into the food chain, so that most reef fish have now become too poisonous to eat.  This fish flesh toxin is called "ciguatera", and it can be deadly or debilitating.  I ate reef fish on the atoll only once back in November, and became extremely ill. Taratau Kirata, the head of Fisheries, our major partner on the island, providing assistance with boats etc, was hospitalized last year from severe ciguatera poisoning, as have increasing numbers on the island. Many people have learned to avoid the problem by eating milkfish and deep ocean fish like Tuna, which are safe, however, an entire island community is at risk, and food security has certainly been compromised.  The long-term solution to this problem is to work to get corals back as the dominant species on the coral reefs of Christmas Island, and this is our long-term goal, working in partnership with mother nature, the island communities, and government. 

While it is impossible to replant the whole reef, it is possible to help re-boot and enhance natural recovery processes.  I will attach a document that has our Pacific-wide strategy, for any who might want more scientific information.  The strategy works to create small patches of "super corals" by planting small second generation branches trimmed from the nursery,  Within two years the corals grow to adult size and will begin spawning to produce coral larvae, sending them out into the water.  The coral patches in theory also serve as a strong settlement signal to any incoming coral larvae, and it has been proven that they share their resistant micro algae with the newcomers, spreading their resistance to future bleaching events.  

Our blaching resistant "super corals" have grown big within the coral nursery and we are at the stage where we must trim the mother corals and use the resulting branches to replant patches of corals back onto the reef.  Indeed the corals are becoming crowded, and trimming them also helps avoid competition in the nursery.  Each of the small 3-10cm coral fragments that result from this trimming are woven into the strands of thin ropes to creat a lei of corals, and then the lei is nailed to the dead reef, where each coral fragment grows, self-attach, and flourish on the reef.  We have replanted one coral patch on the reef where the corals are now adult-sized, and additional new patches were replanted in March at two sites.  Parrotfish bites are the worse problem we are facing, and so we are focusing on outplanting to increase the corals around the nursery, so that the parrotfish will have more corals to chew on - and so that hopefully there will be relatively less damage to each coral colony.  In addition to five Fisheries staff, six youth volunteers joined us in the work, and so the sessions became local capacity building sessions, creating positive vision for the future.    

Thanks to GlobalGiving, I have been able to return to the island twice per year since 2016, for a total of nine trips of 1-3 weeks each, accomplishing quite a lot.  The airplane only comes once a week- or it did until the pandemic began.  We were on the very last plane to leave the island in mid March, and flights have not yet resumed.  Others who stayed behind are still waiting.  As Kiribati has not has a single case of COVID-19, and as Fiji has had no community spread of the virus for over four months, there is talk of re-opening flights, so we look forward to returning soon.  

On returning, we are planning to upscale the work, focusing on more shallow reef sites acessible from shore, and involving more youth from each of the four villages of the island in the coral work, building understanding of coral reefs, the impacts of climate change, and the importance of the work on Christmas Island, as these humble efforts are now part of the leading edge of combatting the extinction of coral reefs globally.

Thanks again for your support and interest in this vital work. 

Out-planted coral lei- note the parrotfish bites!
Out-planted coral lei- note the parrotfish bites!
Kiritimati Super Coral Nursery
Kiritimati Super Coral Nursery
Corals are trimmed by parrotfish and grow rounded
Corals are trimmed by parrotfish and grow rounded
Planting mother corals onto an A-frame
Planting mother corals onto an A-frame

Sep 17, 2020

Happy Chickens Re-Imagined for Fiji Food Crisis!

Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade
Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade

Happy Chickens has been re-branded & re-imagined to meet the demands of the growing food crisis in Fiji.  We are still your favorite chicken project on GlobalGiving that you have known and supported these past five years, but now our mission has expanded to answer the need during the pandemic.  The world is at a standstill here in much of the South Pacific--island nations that we have helped with coral & food security workshops have halted ties to keep safe from the still spreading contagion.  Kiribati, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, for the most part Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia have closed off air traffic and shipping.  This is necessary because these nations have severely limited hospital capacity and historically the villages have no way to stop the spread.  There are no closed houses for quarantine isolation, only the traditional communal living which has afforded survival for generations.

Happy Chickens is ramping up to answer the call for food security in Fiji.  Even though our hatchery program has provided over 30,000 free or at-cost chickens, our yield must be increased to supplement the diets of so many.  No one knows when the high volume poultry shipments from New Zealand can resume.

Before I detail our newest developments at the sustainable, permaculture farm, let me show some of our happy scenes photographed by my son Akka and shared via blog by my wife Kim:

 These cocks squaring off:

Feathers are about to fly.

Looks like a big fight was about to happen. But what really happened is that one rooster chose to de-escalate matters by pretending to eat. ha ha.

Akka shot over this photo which he identified as “two white ducks that are always together.”


Best buds – whatever species they are.

I’m pretty sure that it is a pair of ganders.

Right now Austin is getting quotes from businesses with diggers because he landed a government grant for fish ponds! Akka and wife Monica are going to be raising some gigantic tilapia – as high quality Fish Food is part of the grant. The idea is that people raise the first batch of tilapia with government help, and then reserve part of the fish sales to pay for the high quality food for the next batch of fish. Grow, sell, repeat. If we can make this work, we can pass it on!


2015-09-04 avocado flower  Cr


The avocado tree is making flowers.  Akka adds this photo which shows some of the flora of our farm.  Woot woot – I guess we may be getting our own avocados soon.

Now returning to our re-branding to meet today's emergency situation in Fiji, here are some key elements from our GlobalGiving project page:


Tourism, Fiji's biggest employer, has collapsed, forcing tens of thousands of unemployed to return to their villages. Many have resorted to farming and fishing, but lack skills and resources for sustainable practices. Coral reefs, already stressed by climate change, are becoming over-fished. Free range village chickens integrated into farming are a good alternative, but Fiji is dependent on imported chicks, and airfreight has slowed, resulting in a critical shortfall of baby chickens.


We have crossed local chicken breeds with imported breeds to produce highly productive birds well-adapted to local tropical conditions. Our answer to the crisis has been to ramp-up our Happy Chicken hatchery to >300 chicks/week and to train farmers to produce their own chicks, as well as to train communities in organic farming, with chickens integrated as a key element. With an alternative protein source, some coral reef areas can then be set aside within no-fishing "tabu" recovery zones.

Long-Term Impact

The cyclones destroy important traditional food sources. Improved island-type chickens are excellent foragers and reproduce well on their own, resulting in restored chicken flocks and lasting change. By offering housing & training for youth at our permaculture farm, we are starting a positive chain with our improved island-type chickens. As the world crisis tightens its grip on Fiji, we share seeds, root crop cuttings, and superior coconut seedlings, resulting in feeding >30,000 rural poor.

What began as a partnership and a shared vision with local farmers, indigenous communities throughout the South Pacific, and plain hard work by my extended family, has become one of the key components of addressing the food crisis in Fiji.  Our methods are inspired by the wisdom of my North Carolina ancestors regarding free-ranging chickens and breeding, and are enhanced by local tropically suited practices.  Happy Chickens is now achieving governmental recognition and may one day build upon that international humanitarian attention from agencies like the United Nations and the disaster relief arm of GlobalGiving.

All of this progress and the vision of a better future is sponsored by you!

Sincere thanks for believing we all can make a difference,

Austin Bowden-Kerby and my entire family here at Happy Chickens




Jun 17, 2020

In a Virus Free Fiji - the Coral Work Resumes!

Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals
Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals

Virus Free Fiji--A Victory for Communities and the Corals

FINALLY we are able to get moving again.  With the COVID-19 virus now absent from Fiji, the shut down has at last been lifted. We are now back in our Fiji sites and working hard. These sites went through a bleaching and a hurricane during the lockdown, with no one to maintain them.  Fortunately, the nurseries did amazingly well; all five coral nurseries and reef restoration sites withstood this onslaught of Mother Nature, with relatively minor damage.  The coral nurseries now contain thousands of bleaching resistant “super corals”, which are trimmed periodically to produce seed fragments for use in replanting patches of coral reefs after major bleaching kills the corals.

Here's a fascinating Corals 101 Fact: When we made the five nurseries, we saw astounding numbers of baby corals appear in the coming months, which researchers now say is related to the coral larvae being attracted to the smell of corals, and so we apparently created a strong settlement signal with our nurseries!  So restoring the corals to a reef does not mean replanting the whole reef, but only to create a settlement signal with a few patches of concentrated corals.  

For these Mamanuca Island sites, Corals for Conservation has been in a partnership with Plantation Island Resort for five years now, and the reefs around the resort have over time become a model training site, with the resort assisting with transport to the island, boats for the coral work, budget accommodation, meals, and free training venues.  We have so far trained 38 Fijians to become professional coral gardeners, and two of these coral gardeners (Sarah and Merekelini), both University Marine Studies graduates, have worked as professional coral gardeners and guest marine educators at the resort for the past two years.  Unfortunately, these women were laid off without pay in March due to the temporary closing of the resort, as Fiji stopped all incoming flights and all tourism.  The resort was badly damaged by the cyclone, and all inter-island transport banned, so we were unable to do any coral related work.  Once the ban on transport was lifted in early May, the resort went into intense action to repair the damage, so we were not yet able to come back in.  When the major repairs were completed, the resort graciously invited me back, plus they brought the coral gardeners back on for two weeks of intensive coral work, which has just now been completed.  Amazing progress was made: 1,000 corals were moved to safer waters free from "killer algae" smothering. We are all exhausted and nursing coral cuts-- I even sustained  a bad toxic Crown of Thorns starfish poke to the finger. 

Even though the resort is closed and without income, Plantation Island Resort has nevertheless agreed to provide housing, meals, boats for the work, and bi-weekly transport to and from the main island for our coral gardeners, if C4C can pay these two hard working women their wages. These stewardship efforts are so essential for the progress of critical reef restoration and nursery sites.   We are writing up our results as a technical report and will be back soon, hopefully with a group of local trainees.   

Professional Coral Gardeners Key to Reef & Resort Partnerships

While every resort has gardeners for the land, our goal is that all reef using resorts will take on coral gardeners for the sea, to care for the natural resources and to help the coral reef survive into the future. The coral gardeners work to counter any negative impact that tourists might have, while educating the guests, and helping the coral reef adapt to the warming waters caused by climate change.  Our goal is for “Professional Coral Gardener” to become a certificate level profession and to create a hundred or more new jobs for bright young Pacific Islanders, so that pockets of coral reefs survive and thrive into the future under the care of loving and skilled hands. 

As part of this initiative, and parallel to the strategy with the resorts, we work with indigenous reef-owning communities, considering them as a major part of the solution.  We help by addressing poverty-driven overfishing of resources, and stimulating the restoration of fish and other marine resources, creating marine resource management plans, no fishing areas, and alternative livelihoods.  The chiefs are interested in working with the tourism industry and government to create a permanent marine park for conserving the area, and C4C is facilitating this process.    

Healthy coral reefs provide abundant fish, sandy beaches, and are a vital tourism resource.  The biggest threat to the survival of coral reefs is Global Warming, as the ocean is becoming hotter with each passing year.  Hot water causes the corals to become sick and to lose their colors- a process called bleaching.  However, some corals are resistant to this bleaching, and can tolerate the hotter water.  The reefs around Plantation Island Resort are very shallow, and have proven ideal for selecting hot water adapted, bleaching resistant  “super corals,” and our nurseries are filled with a diversity of these amazing corals. 

In partnership with the resort we have so far carried out three local workshops starting in 2016. Since 2019, we have run three international “Coral Gardening for Climate Change Adaptation” workshops, attracting over 75 people from as far away as Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand.  We are now going ahead and preparing to host our next series of Fiji-focused coral gardening training workshops at the resort, starting as early as July for Fiji. Then as flights reopen in the region, we plan to include regional trainees due to high demand for the program.  We are submitting proposals to raise additional funding for this work, and the resort is willing to lower their charges to  break-even cost, to help keep the resort functional.

During the Crisis Time an Opportunity to Re-invent Tourism Industry

This crisis is the best time to re-invent the tourism industry to become more sustainable and to better protect the environment. The tourism industry of the South Pacific greatly depends on the coral reefs, yet the old ways were damaging the environment.  Coral gardening, if it is done by properly trained professionals, and as part of a wider conservation plan (and of course using the super corals), can help the corals survive into the future, while providing meaningful livelihoods for Pacific islanders.


Every gift is precious at any time.  Your thoughtful donations continue to restore life to ensure a dynamic, thriving reef seascape--one of our planet's richest ecosystems.

Here's a link which includes a fun minute video from Northern Lau by Vatuvara Foundation:  Watch--it's just like being with us> https://www.vatuvara.org/blog/2020/6/8/coral-restoration-in-northern-lau-for-a-healthy-and-safe-ocean?fbclid=IwAR05rltlFqB0tkTyNAbd9BYvtwZJPSUBOUj__kxYlW5hCPWtZr1EZ3mVEHM  

Thanks for helping make this important work a reality,


Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Team Coral:  Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
Team Coral: Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
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