Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching

by Corals for Conservation
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Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Mass Coral Bleaching
Planting heat adapted corals for the nursery
Planting heat adapted corals for the nursery

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I begin with the powerful visual of NOAA graph which show we are further over the cliff than most of us realize. Kiritimati (Christmas Island) was the most intensive ocean temperatures of anywhere in history it seems, although only for ten months.  This is not surprising, since the area lies directly on the equator. Kiribati is now clearly the leading edge in what is predicted to be the collapse of coral reefs globally from climate change.  Kiribati is therefore the place to learn as many lessons as possible in our race to help prevent this mass die off of corals on other reefs globally. 
 
Thanks to all of our donors for bringing our shared concern for the health and the future of coral reefs to the forefront by donating your time and dollars.  In the news phrases appear like: the hottest July ever recorded, rain falling in Greenland where formerly snow only was seen, Antarctica's iceshelf rapidly melting--so much so that the fresh water is weakening ocean currents, and mention of an astounding heatwave in Siberia.  What's next?  Yes, some glimpses of the future stresses upon the earth are already visible, like receding glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas exposing bare ground and ultimately taking away the water resource for many peoples.
Yet corals are painted in a softer pallet and they lie beneath the surface where most people can't observe critical changes.  Formerly common corals have become rare and even locally extinct, depriving colorful reef fish of homes and impacting indigenous communities which survive by grace off the coral reef.  
Backstory of Corals Endangered from Bleaching
Over five years ago, I reached out to you in the face of an unpredented coral bleaching emergency.  Here we are years later with more coral gardeners toiling earnestly around the globe, but emergency is still in the title--the state of urgency has not been alleviated.
Searching for super corals among the dead corals
The story of Kiribati and the 2015-2016 mass bleaching is where we started, and where scientists are learning what the future might be and how to better preserve reef diversity.  The saddest part of the tale is had we only known the waters would be so hot as to cause fish die-offs, then we could have moved precious corals to cooler, deeper areas.  Now that lesson is learned, and with your help, the fight continues to do just that--acting the sooner the better to protect and preserve threatened coral beds.
With Larval Dispersal Compromised, Reefs need Help to Reproduce
Many species of Acropora corals have been lost from the Line Islands, Kiribati, since the 2016 severe ten-month mass bleaching event, the most intense bleaching event ever recorded in the NOAA data series.  With no reefs directly upcurrent, where larvae might recruit from, these locally
extinct species have little chance of returning unassisted- within my lifetime at least. Surviving remnants are so few and far apart that sexual reproduction has obviously failed. Could a similar problem be emerging for other reefs globally, especially at the fringes of present coral
distribution, and for reefs likewise isolated from upcurrent coral larval sources?
Of the Acropora species originally found on Kiritimati (Christmas) Atoll, after several years of searching, we have found a total of 5 acropora species persisting, out of 13 original species. Two of the Acropora species, *A. globiceps* and *A. retusa*, have in recent years been recognized and listed as threatened corals internationally.
Second Generation Fragments Replanted into Multi-Genetic Patches
We have collected samples of all the surviving Acropora species that could be found on the atoll, however only a few genotypes are available for some species.  Using the sampled fragments, we have created a coral nursery in a sheltered area with good water flow.  Adult colonies now are growing and likely spawning seasonally in the nursery, and second generation fragments have also been replanted into multi-genetic patches on the reef, in hopes of re-booting successful spawning and natural recovery processes. We predict that these survivors are more bleaching resistant than those corals which died. The Kiritimati case study is included as chapter 17 of the new book, "Active Coral Restoration, Techniques for a Changing Planet", edited
by Dr. David Vaughn.
Measure Success by Securing Diversity and Resilience
In the new climate change realities that we now face, I believe that coral reef restoration must become more focused on endangered species recovery and on nurturing bleaching resistance and disease resistance among diverse corals, as well as restoring sexual reproduction, so that natural adaptive
processes are encouraged. 
 Rather than "upscaling" restoration based on the numbers of fragments planted per square meter, I think we should measure success based on securing diversity and resilience within declining or threatened coral species, helping secure and restore reproductive and ecologically functioning coral populations, which in turn facilitate
natural recovery processes. We can not replant the whole reef, and we must ask ourselves if what we replant today will survive a rapidly warming world?  Are we imposing a technology on the reef system that will increase coral cover now, but that is ultimately doomed when mass bleaching hits, or are we working to increase bleaching resistance within the coral population that will hopefully spread, buying us precious time, while the world
struggles to bring climate change under control?
Lesson Learned:  Move Coral Samples to Cooler Waters Now
Most importantly, I think that we now need to invest energy into ensuring long term survival of our most resilient coral populations, which may already exist at the upper limit of thermal tolerance.  Unfortunately, Kiribati shows us that these most resistant corals are just as vulnerable
to mass bleaching events, as the shallow lagoon waters can become superheated and exceed the maximum heat threshold of all corals.  If we had only gotten to Kiritimati Atoll before the bleaching induced mass die-off in 2015-16, we might have saved multiple genotypes of the most resistant corals of the lagoon from local extinction- simply by moving coral samples
out to cooler waters near the passes and establishing them within 
nurseries.   But alas, the entire population of bleaching resistant corals died out when the water became so hot that even the fish died.  Just imagine a large lagoon covered in thickets of dead and standing staghorn and massive corals- all we could find alive after a day of searching was one small colony of foliose Montipora.
Race Against Time in Fiji:  Capitalize on Time-Sensitive Opportunity
Learning from this tragedy, in Fiji we now focus on identifying hot pockets on the reef and inshore that are near the upper limit of thermal tolerance, and sampling those corals, moving them out to cooler water nurseries where even in severe condition two bleaching, temperatures will never go above the threshold for these specific corals.  But this is a race against time, and ours is only a tiny effort when compared to the scale of the reefs and the numbers of nearshore and shallow lagoon hot pockets in Fiji, the region, and globally.  Unless this is recognized as a time sensitive opportunity, within a decade, most of these heat adapted coral populations will be gone.

Even if we can solve the climate crisis with massive changes in production and consumption, unless coral restoration efforts can begin to visualize conditions 10-20 or even 30 years into the future, will they succeed? Based on clear trends, many of the Acropora species that we are working with now will likely be the first to go, becoming threatened species or locally extinct in our lifetimes.  Right now, we continue to have a range of species and genotypes with broad thermal and disease tolerances to work with.  But as the die-offs arrive, unless heat adapted corals that are
presently living near their upper thermal limits are secured, we stand to lose much of this diversity of resilience that is so important to long term coral reef survival.

Our team of volunteers, lead by Indigenous marine biologists, Sara Makutu and Merekeleni Tinai are in the field, at our Plantation Island Resort partnership site, working hard six days a week to carry forward the work to create a model coral reef adaptation for climate change site (recent photos attached).  We will welcome self-funded researchers and students to join us in our sites, once the planes start flying again in this region--maybe this November?  For those searching for a topic along the lines of ecological restoration or facilitated adaptation, we have a long list of research questions that might help pin down a research topic of global relevance.  
For all of you who labor and give to sustain corals, you merit the thanks of our shared planet,

Vinaka,

Austin
October team over a gene bank nursery
October team over a gene bank nursery
Overgrown nursery prior to trimming
Overgrown nursery prior to trimming
Nuku reef, our most pristine remaining site
Nuku reef, our most pristine remaining site
One of many new restoration sites
One of many new restoration sites
Trimmed heat-resistant corals for out-planting
Trimmed heat-resistant corals for out-planting
Our Fiji model site for coral reef adaptation!
Our Fiji model site for coral reef adaptation!
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Mangrove Planting Activity May 2021
Mangrove Planting Activity May 2021

Fiji Faces the Challenges of a new Super-Spreader Strain


Bula everyone, 

Fiji is now in the midst of a major crisis. Over a year ago all tourism stopped and we have had severe economic consequences and unemployment.  However we had a full year of no community spread of the virus, and we could move freely around the country without masks. Yes, a few cases were intercepted effectively at the border as all arrivals enter a two-week quarantine in a facility.  However, the new super-spreader strain (B1.617.2) of COVID-19 jumped right over the vaccine and quarantine, and now over 800 people have been infected in many communities. The last week we have had betwen 33 and 94 new cases per day. 

Two New Coral Nurseries Planted and Dozens of Fish-house Structures Deployed

In spite of the challenges, our C4C team, consisting of our coral gardener Merekeleni, and five volunteers, is at the field sties, housed at the now closed Plantation Island Resort. They have been there over-time for the past five weeks now due to the lock downs, separated from their families. The team, under Keleni's guidance, has carried out a tremendous amount of work; removing COTS, creating new coral nurseries in two areas, creating and deploying dozens of fish-house structures planted with heat adapted corals taken from extremly shallow hot pockets, planting mangroves and cleaning the beach when the waves were too big to go out, or when the team was just feeling too water-logged!  Plantation island Resort has been very gracious to host the team, providing accommodation, food, and boats!  The major trimming and outplanting planned for this month has been postponed, but we hope to do that in July or August, as we hopefully are able to rotate a new team in and also get Austin, the team scientists back in from the main island, where he has been stuck in the lockdowns.  During that time, we hope to create at least one new nursery and several putplanting sites with our second generation heat adapted corals trimmed from the existing nurseries, to establish known bleaching resistant and bleaching sensitive corals on both cooler outer reefs and hotter inner reefs (see map).  With the additional nurseries and our temperature loggers in place, we will then be well prepared for the next bleaching even and to finally prove that our strategy of moving corals from hot inner reefs to cooler outer reefs is effective at combating climate change and coral reef demise. Moving corals locally will help prevent the demise of the bleaching resistant corals, as the habitats they presently live in may become too hot for any corals to survive, while the outer reefs will not get as hot. Unfortunately the cooler adpated corals of the outer reef may die out, leaving only the pockets of heat adapted corals that we have planted.   

Temperature Loggers Capable of Recording Data for Five Years Have Arrived!

We have finally received twenty Hobo recording temperature loggers, which we will soon be able to deploy throughout the site to map the temperatures over time.  The loggers will record the water temperature every 30 minutes for at least five years.  We also plan to send some to Kiribati and Tuvalu for the coral nurseries there, to be depolyed by our partners, once the mail service is restored.  

Raising the Alarm - the Coral Reefs of Kiribati as the Most Impacted on the Planet!  

Im May, I drafted a report on the repeated mass bleaching and death of the coral reefs of Kiribati, and submitted it to the Kiribati Ambassador to the UN, Mr Teburoro Tito, and he has forwarded the report to key members of his government. The coral reefs of Kiribati are over 90% dead now, directly due to hot water bleaching, and noone seems to have noticed!  Included in my report is a proposed action plan based on our successful Christmas Atoll, Kiribati project, which has now been published as a chapter in a new book on coral restoration.  

Progress has been made on the website, and the BBC TV nine-minute film "The Coral Gardener" has been uploaded and can now be accessed on the website. www.corals4conservation.org 

Super Donors are Saving Super Corals

In Fiji we have super corals and unbelievably beautiful reefs still persist, and we send a super thank you to our super donors!  We are receiving donations in Euros, Pounds, US, New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian dollars, etc, and we are also privileged to be chosen by key GlobalGiving corporate partners who sponsor gift cards.  Vinaka vakalevu (abundant thanks) to everyone who has donated and/or who has shared our reports and links, as our web of friends is widening. 

The Coral Gardening Team Planting Mangroves
The Coral Gardening Team Planting Mangroves
Coral Gardening Team Removing Coral-Killing COTS
Coral Gardening Team Removing Coral-Killing COTS
Mamanuca Restoration Sites and Planned Sites
Mamanuca Restoration Sites and Planned Sites
Austin and Grandson Kiki Unpacking the Loggers!
Austin and Grandson Kiki Unpacking the Loggers!
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Volunteers do a lot of work but also have fun!
Volunteers do a lot of work but also have fun!

EXCITING NEWS! Our project has been selected as one of only six case study sites for coral reef restoration by the United Nations, with our project taking up five pages out of a 45-page globally significant UNEP document!  Our full Kiribati report has also been updated and selected for publication as a chapter in a book on coral reef restoration.

While the Global pandemic has changed so many things, here in Fiji and much of the South Pacific there is no community spread of the virus at all, and so we can move about as always.  However, with no air travel and all commercial flights cancelled, it is still impossible to travel to Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Samoa, and so follow up trips planned for our sites there have not been possible, but we continue to work with our local partner organizations via email.  In the mean time, we have focused on the Fiji sites, with especially intensive work in the Malolo sites from September. 

We have gone into the sites each month since then, with teams of ten volunteers for two-week rotations, supervised by our two professional coral gardeners, Sarah, Keleni, and myself.  The volunteers are mostly unemployed graduates from the marine studies program at the university, living at home with their parents due to a greatly retracted economy, now that tourism is closed down.  These young people are real gems. They have an excellent background, but are bored with the present situation at home, and thus thrilled and thankful to be out in the ocean again! 

Surprise from Mother Nature:  A String of Tropical Cyclones Cools the Waters & Averts Widespread Coral Bleaching.

We have focused on preparing the reefs and coral nurseries for a predicted mass coral bleaching and mass death event, that was expected to hit starting this month (February), in the heart of our southern hemisphere summer.  Water temperatures have reached 33C (>90F), at times in our bleaching resistant coral nurseries.  Howevre, in a dynamic turn of weather trends, four cyclones hit Fiji in sequence since November, brushing past our sites (no direct hits), and cooling off the waters, so that only a minor bleaching has emerged so far.

Coral Saving Strategy has Crown of Thorns Starfish Relinquishing Killer Hold on Reefs

Our primary strategy has been to remove the venomous, coral killing, Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), which have infested parts of our reefs, with intense focus in our planned coral outplanting and restoration sites.  We can not replant corals unless and until these animals are under better control, otherwise we are just feeding the problem. 

After removing hundreds of COTS from four targeted reefs, it is finally becoming harder to find them, as their abundance is much lower.  After two more months of mop-up operations, we will be ready in May to commence with the out-planting of corals trimmed from the nurseries , when the waters begin to cool off again. The goal is to create sizable patches of bleaching resistant super corals on the reefs, corals that will grow into adult colonies and begin to spawn, sending their babies onto the wider reef system.  This plan will test the idea that these corals share their heat adapted super-algae with nearby corals and incoming coral larvae, helping them to also become bleaching resistant. Our prediction is that the bleaching resistant reef patches will increase in size and diversity over time, and that the downcurrent coral populations will become more resistant, as the resistant corals spawn and send their larvae and algae into the wider reef system.  

In these times of great heat stress, the corals should not be fragmented for planting, as that added stress can lead to their death.  As an alternative strategy, entire colonies can be moved, if kept in the same upright orientation. Therefore, we successfully collected more super coral candidates from the hot pocket reefs and we moved one entire coral nursery of over 80 large mother corals from an extreme hot pocket into cooler waters. 

Local-focused Partnerships with Tuvalu and Kiribati Youth for Environmental Restoration and Food Source Alternatives to Overfishing

The Tuvalu youth group that we work with has sent a wonderful report and photos showing their work removing tons of invasive seaweeds that have smothered the corals, using the sargassum seaweed as fertilizer in their sweet potato gardens.  Weeding of the invasive seaweeds from around the few remaining corals in the town area is creating clean bare rock, which will receive corals trimmed from the super coral nurseries. This coral planting can occur after the third removal is completed, ensuring that the seaweeds are killed out in the restoration patches before the coral work begins.

The Kiribati nursery corals continue to thrive under the care of our local partners, who have recently sent photos of the nursery.  The over-abundant parrotfish continue to suppress the coral growth in the nursery, normally a problem, but at this time the slower growth has helped ensure that the nursery is kept manageable, with the corals we trimmed last March regrowing slowly and not fighting with their neighbors.  The planned creation of two new nurseries in areas with fewer parrotfish is on hold for now.  The efforts we took in teaching alternate food sources in this import-dependent community: sweet potatoes, edible banana flowers and stems, wild greens, and edible seaweeds, has proven very useful, as imports have become harder to obtain, with a major slowdown in shipping and total stoppage of air freight due to the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, we have not been able to follow up with the work in our partnership site on Moorea, in French Polynesia, with the "Coral Gardeners" youth-driven NGO. Even with flights inward possible, a COVID epidemic has ravaged the islands, as they have continued to allow tourists in.  

Livelihood Workshops for Reef Dependent Communities, Seaweed and Giant Clam Farming, and Disaster Relief Shifts into High Gear with our Experienced Corals for Conservation Officer. 

Back in Fiji, a livelihoods workshop for reef dependent communities is going on right now at our Teitei Livelihoods Centre, and our Naidiri coral restoration site is well represented.  Our community officer Simione Koto is missing, as he is off to the north of Fiji, to Vanua Levu island, to assist with cyclone relief and channeling disaster aid sent to us through GlobalGiving.  He is also following up on prospects for new coral restoration sites there in the two communities we are assisting.  The government has almost no aid for the communities, only a week of food rations, and no material support whatsoever, as the tax base of the nation has collapsed due to the closure of the tourism industry.  We are distributing cyclone strapping, nails, and roofing screws to secure rafters, beams, and roofs, to many households, to strengthen what they manage to rebuild.  The elderly and single mothers with devastated houses have been identified across the communities and are initial targets for urgent relief.  With the shoring up housing, both the structures and the people who live in them will be able to survive in the next storm. 

The Fiji Ministry of Fisheries sent four of their officers into our Mamanuca site and they are working with us on the farming of commercially valuable and edible seaweeds in the ocean as a potential community livelihood, well as the farming of overfished and endangered giant clam species, for restoration of the important species back to the reefs.

Volunteer and Intern Opportunity in Covid-19 Free Fiji for Families, and Students!

For individuals and families who read this who would like to come serve in Fiji as self-supporting volunteers, student interns, or scientific researchers in our coral reef and community development sites, we certainly could use your help.  We recently met with Fiji Immigration and it is possible to bring people in through quarantine and on the weekly repatriation flight from LAX, as long as we get you a proper volunteer permit valid for one year.  Marine biology, agriculture, natural resources management, and community development graduates worldwide who are passionate about community prosperity and preserving the coral reef ecosystem may find such an internship an amazing opportunity.  You might reach out to your university to see if this would qualify for an individual study course.  Otherwise the experience will be enriching and will help prepare you for a career in your field.  Please send us an email if you are interested.

As always, we thank you for your support and your continued and sacrificial donations, none of this amazing progress would have been possibly without small donors like you.  For those planning on donating again, coming soon is a matching and bonus opportunity in March from GlobalGiving- the "Little by Little" campaign, and again in April for Earth Week bonuses.  

Vinaka vakalevu,

Austin

Tuvalu Invasive Seaweed Removal Project
Tuvalu Invasive Seaweed Removal Project
Kiribati Coral Nursery January, 2021
Kiribati Coral Nursery January, 2021
Giant Clam Babies Arrive from Fisheries!
Giant Clam Babies Arrive from Fisheries!
Seaweed Farming Trials Begin in the Fiji Sites!
Seaweed Farming Trials Begin in the Fiji Sites!
Crown of Thorns Starfish Removed from Nuku Reef
Crown of Thorns Starfish Removed from Nuku Reef
Volunteers get a great experience and education.
Volunteers get a great experience and education.

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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

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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.

JULY 15TH IS GLOBAL GIVING'S NEXT BONUS DAY:  GIFTS FROM $250 TO $1,000 RECEIVE A 30% TO 50% MATCH.  

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,

Austin

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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Organization Information

Corals for Conservation

Location: Samabula - Fiji
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Austin Bowden-Kerby
Samabula, Fiji
$80,345 raised of $95,000 goal
 
1,004 donations
$14,655 to go
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