Reef rescue: ordinary people can participate too

Nature Seychelles has called for the participation of local volunteers to carry out the Reef Rescuer project that will restore reefs destroyed by climate-induced bleaching. The participation of local people is crucial to the success of the project the technical manager for the project Dr. Gideon Levy has said. Participation could be in the form of volunteering and volunteers can help in preparing sites by filling nurseries with corals and in the future transplantation of coral colonies.

"Local people can learn valuable techniques for reef restoration. As we have done with our pioneering land-based island restoration programmes in the past we would like to generate a pool of skilled local persons for sustained reef restoration." Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles Chief Executive said on Praslin.

The call was made at a stakeholders workshop to introduce the USAID-Reef Rescue project being implemented by the organisation. Held at the Island Conservation Centre, Praslin, the workshop brought together representatives of the Seychelles National Parks Authority, Seychelles Fishing Authority, Seychelles Hospitality & Tourism Association, Praslin Development Fund, Seychelles Islands Foundation and local boat charters.

Levy introduced participants to the reef gardening concept that will be used to restore coral reefs on two sites on Praslin and Cousin Island Special Reserve. Although there are a number of techniques being used globally to re-grow corals, this model has been selected for its simplicity, cost effectiveness, and low negative impact on donor sites. The technique is called gardening due to its similarity to terrestrial forestation methods.

During the first stage, Levy explained, coral nurseries will be established in sheltered areas away from harmful human and natural impacts. They will be given the best conditions possible to help high growth rates and survivorship of the small coral fragments.

In the second stage, corals that have grown to a required colony size will be transferred from the nursery and transplanted in pre-selected and treated degraded reef sites, in similar conditions as where they originated from, to give them a high chance of survival. As they are nurtured, the corals then slowly dominate and take over the reef attracting fish and invertebrates bringing  a more healthy state, although survival is highly dependent on site selection.

Sites are usually selected based on the long-term goal of the restoration, be it to restore the ecosystem such as on Cousin or for tourism purposes. They are also selected for their natural attributes and stability - the granitic reefs for example are more stable than carbonate reefs and recent studies have shown that there is more natural recovery success on granitic reefs.

Successful re-colonisation of the sites will depend on what is stressing corals at the moment, participants heard. This could be anthropogenic impacts such as pollution, reduction of light by turbidity and siltation inflicted by construction and sedimentation and breakage caused by boat and recreational activities or natural impact like macro-algae dominance. After the bleaching occurred, algae took over the dead reefs, and the dead coral broke into rubble creating a substrate not solid enough for coral survival. Suitable sites are best located away from activities that would have a negative impact and preparation and treatment like substrate solidification and algae removal will have to take place in order to improve chances for success.

Participants at the workshop said they were keen to be involved in the projected. It is also expected that the practices, results and lessons learned will be cascaded in Seychelles and the Region through the preparation of a guidebook for restoration and a business model. People from all scopes of the community, both divers or snorkelers are welcome to get better awareness and understanding of the state and importance of the reefs of the area, and learn about reef conservation and restoration by volunteering and personally experiencing the methodologies discussed above.   

Listen to Nirmal Shah talk about the USAID/Nature Seychelles Reef Rescue project


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