I want you to imagine having a vegetable garden in your home, and you get your daily portion of veggies from this garden. But one day, a storm or a pest comes and kills most of your stock. Consequently you are now faced with protecting what is left, restocking or a mix of both. Which option would you choose so you may continue harvesting from your garden?
Dr. Phanor Montoya-Maya posed this introductory question to participants in an online webinar focusing on Nature Seychelles’ coral reef restoration work in the last five years. Phanor was the Technical and Scientific Officer in Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers Program and remains an Associate to the organization. He is currently back in his home country Columbia promoting coral reef restoration work.
Reef Rescuers Louise Malaise (L) and Phanor Montoya (R) breaking a coral into several pieces for the underwater coral nursery
The webinar, titled ‘Coral Gardening as an MPA (Marine Protected Area) Management Tool’, was hosted by Kristen Maize, Strategic Communications Manager for The Nature Conservancy, Hawai'i Program. She also runs webinars for the Reef Resilience Network. After the two met last year, Ms Maize invited Phanor to share his experience with the Reef Rescuers Project in a webinar.
“Nature Seychelles pioneered science-based, low-tech large-scale reef restoration in the Western Indian Ocean,” Phanor says. “The project has enhanced the natural recovery of a degraded reef. While other reefs around the world are struggling with the third massive bleaching event, our transplanted site, our "engineered" site, is fighting back. There is less coral mortality on our site. We can claim that we did bring a dead reef back to life. We are ready to replicate it anywhere in the world.”
The Reef Rescuers Project was realised with funding from USAID and other donors. During the webinar, Phanor outlined the genesis of the project, citing the massive 1998 coral bleaching event in Seychelles and other parts of the world, caused by El Nino. During this bleaching event, 98% of corals in the Seychelles died. Later in 2004 and in 2010 there was further coral mortality. He detailed the methods Nature Seychelles used to restore coral reefs at various sites around Cousin Island Special Reserve and Praslin Island, highlighting successes, lessons learnt and recommendations.
The nurseries require a lot of attention including cleaning - using a recycled toothbrush
“Our Reef Rescuers Project and results are evidence that scientifically sound, well planned, properly structured, long-term and large-scale active reef restoration efforts together with enforced area protection can significantly assist in the recovery of degraded reefs,” Phanor pointed out. “More importantly, they are evidence that the two strategies are complementary if we are to restore coral reef goods and services. Reef managers and decision makers now have a baseline to initiate similar projects around the world.”
The Reef Rescuers Project used coral gardening, by creating underwater nurseries from coral fragments that had survived and were thought to be more resilient to bleaching. These underwater gardens are what Phanor alludes to in the webinar when he poses the question of how to respond to the destruction of a home vegetable garden, and therefore to the loss of one’s food source. Indeed, coral reefs are vital marine ecosystems and their health and survival is therefore integral to the livelihoods of coastal communities, not to mention the fisheries industry.
“What we lose through the complete degradation of coral reefs greatly underscores the need for coral reef protection and restoration,” Phanor stresses. “The cost of coral reef restoration, which seems high today, is minimal compared to the losses of ecosystem goods and services from degraded reefs. It will be more expensive just to sit and wait. We need to act now!”