The coral restoration programme by Barbados Blue
Sep 05, 2022|14Life Below Water
I am Elena, documenting from Barbados. I'm writing to you today to tell you about a recent programme I participated in. I found it interesting, so I wanted to share my experience with you and hopefully inspire you to go and try out different initiatives in your local environment. But first, I'd like to introduce you to Barbados Blue, a dive organization here in beautiful Barbados. Just recently, Barbados Blue invited a group of us to participate and learn from a coral restoration programme, ask any questions to the contributors, and possibly return for future collaborations and projects.
I thought, "This sounds AMAZING!" Especially knowing how severely our human behaviour, such as the climate crisis, affects our world's coral reefs. Recent studies by the Coral Reef Crisis Guide indicate that we have destroyed approximately 50% of the coral reefs on Earth. If we don't correct our activity and consumption as a people in the next 30 years, we could lose at least 40% more. This would be detrimental to our world because coral reefs provide coastal protection for communities, habitat for fish, and millions of dollars in recreation and tourism, among other benefits. It's for these reasons that we decided to participate in this fantastic opportunity.
Once we arrived, we first got to learn about the project's origins and a brief overview of the coral protection and restoration process, which was given to us by André Miller, a marine biologist here in Barbados. We learnt that the event of coral bleaching was first noticed by people in the late 1980s. In essence, coral bleaching happens when corals lose their vibrant colour and turn white. This change is usually due to temperature, light, nutrients, or lack thereof. Still, the leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change.
Because of these changes, many coral reefs are struggling not only in Barbados but worldwide. Since this problem is significant, we solve it by breaking it down, which is why Barbados Blue decided to create this programme for a specific species of coral known as staghorn coral. (We call it this due to its resemblance to an antler. ;)
I got the opportunity to interview Keira, something I learned for the first time that I found very interesting is that the hard part of the coral is actually its skeleton, the colourful exterior is the tissue, and the living organisms on the inside, called polyps, are the animal. Staghorn coral, specifically, is a keystone species, which is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. If it were removed, the ecosystem would change drastically.
Something else that often happens with the staghorn coral is that people mistake its white tips for coral bleaching, but it's actually a lot more interesting than that. These white tips, called apicoles, are thanks to the damsel fish, which farms its algae on the staghorn, causing the apicoles to turn white.
Even more interesting is the process of protecting the precious staghorn coral. The process goes like this;
- First, living or dead staghorn corals found naturally in the ocean are located and marked off for future uses. Living is ideal, but if there are living remnants of the dead coral, these also work. Knowing what we know about the anatomy of the coral, even if the coral is bleached, or in other words, the tissue, the animal inside may still be alive and preservable.
- Next, these pieces are collected and relocated to a staghorn coral nursery. Currently, there are two staghorn coral nurseries in Barbados. These coral nurseries have specially designed A-frames structures to grow these living pieces. These A-frames are covered in a special resin that will protect them from the surrounding natural habitat, and therefore, they will last longer. Regardless, after a while, these A-frames do need to be checked regularly for breakage, and when they falter, they must replace them.
- After being zip-tied to the A-frames, these pieces are given however long they need to regain enough strength to be reintegrated into the environment. (Oh, and don't worry about those zip-ties; they're biodegradable, I asked ;) The coral can reject any of these foreign materials introduced, but this hasn't happened to Barbados Blue, thankfully :)
- This period of growth on the A-frame will usually take about a month. Once that process finish, divers will find a rock in the protected coral area and place a nail. The coral is then zip-tied to the nail, and voila! It can begin to regrow!
This entire process is creating a 'hybrid coral' since it is a combination of the frames and nails that grows on and the actual coral.
Placing the coral within the protected areas is vital because there are many everyday activities that the public is not allowed to do in these areas. For example, fishing and other boating activities have caused this coral species to become endangered in Barbados. Even simply mooring your boat will be dangerous due to anchor damage. Other factors, such as uninformed or untrained divers and predatory species, can affect the coral. An example of a species that attacks staghorn coral is fire coral, a type of coral that acts as a blanket and covers other species of coral. Even sometimes, storms and currents can affect the spread of the population since the coral can be resilient to these natural occurrences, but it is still fragile. The storms and currents can also unmount zip-ties and nails set up for the still-growing pieces in the nursery.
Every month, divers visit the nurseries to check on the coral and how much it has grown. This growth is measured using a half-square meter frame. The frame is held just over the coral, not laid on it, because it could cause damage, and the branches are measured to estimate how much it has grown.
WOW. That was a lot of information. And can you believe that all this has happened in the four years since they started the project? It was an honour to be able to see these talented environmentalists at work and for them to take the time out of their day to educate us. If you are interested in learning more about this project, Barbados Blue, or coral restoration in general, feel free to contact or visit https://www.divebarbadosblue.com/