Corals For Conservation is an innovative non-profit organization that seeks to restore coral reefs while improving the livelihood of local communities. Founded in Fiji in 1999, Corals For Conservation now works in Samoa, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica as well.
Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Though they cover less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s ocean surface, they contain one quarter of all marine species. The fish and other marine species that congregate around reefs provide critical sources of income and nutrition for nearby fishing communities. The beauty of coral reefs brings in another source of income for nearby communities: tourism. Coral reefs also provide many ecosystem services by absorbing wave energy, reducing storm damage and coastal erosion. In fact, scientists believe than many small islands around the world couldn’t even exist without reefs.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are under threat around the world from many different causes. Although tourism currently offers one of the best motivations for local communities to conserve their reefs, inexperienced divers often break off pieces of coral, and others may do so deliberately as a “souvenir.” Local divers may also break off pieces of coral to sell in souvenir shops. These types of activities cause damage mainly in localized areas, but coral reefs are also at risk from more serious and systematic threats, including over-fishing and harmful fishing practices such as blast fishing, ocean acidification, pollution, and climate change.
Corals For Conservation is attempting to solve several of these problems at once through a technique called coral gardening. Coral gardening takes pieces of coral that have been broken off or damaged by divers, fishing activities, or storms, or that are growing in overcrowded regions of the reef, and replants them in special coral gardens. These transplants are tended for about a year and then broken down into smaller branches again. Some of these branches are harvested to be sold as souvenirs, creating a more eco-friendly source of income for local residents than breaking off wild corals, and others are replanted in damaged areas of the reef.
Reefs that are especially damaged may get a head start at recovery with the help of Corals for Conservation’s “Coral Castles.” Similar to Reefballs, coral castles are man-made structures that are designed to provide hiding places for reef fish and other marine life and a suitable substrate for corals to take root and quickly begin to rebuild the reef. The castles are placed in degraded reefs and planted with corals from nearby coral gardens.
In addition to coral gardening and coral castles, Corals For Conservation helps local communities set up no-take Marine Protected Areas where fishing is prohibited. This creates a safe base where fish populations can recover from over-harvesting. It also trains local community members, including workers in the fishing and tourism industries, in coral restoration techniques.
By providing local communities with a financial interest in maintaining a healthy, diverse reef, and by training workers in industries that already depend on coral reefs to improve their care of the reef, Corals For Conservation is helping build a sustainable effort to preserve and restore coral reef ecosystems around the world.