Reef Rescuers is an innovative project of Nature Seychelles that aims to help build resilience by restoring and conserving coral reefs that have been affected by climate-induced coral bleaching.
The small island developing state of the Seychelles is a chain of islands that lie in the western Indian Ocean. In 1998, the Seychelles experienced a mass coral bleaching event as a result of increased ocean temperatures, which in turn caused the collapse and death of many corals.
Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers project operates in two areas of the Seychelles: Cousin Island (a special reserve that is also the world’s first carbon neutral island) and Praslin Island. The project aims to restore and conserve coral reefs, thereby securing a sustainable future for the Seychelles – a country heavily dependent on healthy coral reefs.
Coral reefs are particularly important areas of marine biodiversity and breeding grounds for fish and other species upon which the Seychelles’ economy relies. Reefs also act as a first line of defense from rising ocean levels.
Without healthy coral reefs, the Seychelles would lose out on valuable income associated with tourism and fisheries and may also increase its vulnerability to costly risks and disasters associated with climate change.
Reef Rescuers, which began in 2010 and is funded by USAID, is piloting the first-ever large scale active reef restoration project in the region using ‘coral gardening’. Coral gardening involves collecting small pieces of healthy coral, raising them in underwater nurseries and then transplanting them to degraded sites that have been affected by coral bleaching. The Coral Gardening concept was selected from among other coral regeneration methods for its simplicity, cost effectiveness and low-impact on donor sites.
A team of divers work daily to maintain the 8 rope nurseries and 3 net nurseries that have been established – comprising about 40,000 and 1500 coral fragments respectively. Many of these nursery grown corals have been transplanted in areas of degraded reef and the results so far have been positive. By April 2013, more than 13,000 nursery-grown colonies have been transplanted using two different techniques. A second phase of transplantation of more than 30,000 colonies is scheduled by November 2013.
The long-term “success” of this mass transplantation is yet to be monitored but the project has already had a very positive knowledge-building impact: 30 scientific divers were involved and trained on reef restoration techniques. A tool kit is currently being put together to highlight the lessons learnt from the project and a Business Plan will be developed to ensure project sustainability. Nature Seychelles welcomes certified divers and marine science graduates from Africa and the south west Indian Ocean to come to help with the second phase of transplantation and gain technical skills.