Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers have been outplanting corals on degraded reefs since the beginning of the year. A member of the team, Athina Antoine, tells us, in her own words, why she finds so much joy in this activity. "We dive not to escape life, but for life not to escape us,” a famous quote says.
The most amazing thing about being a Reef Rescuer is being able to dive every day into our coral project to make a difference for dying reefs. You feel like you are escaping life for a few hours while you are saving another life before it escapes us.
Athina holding corals colonies for outplanting at Athinopora (Photo - Luca Saponari)
Since the beginning of this year, we have been busy outplanting corals in the Cousin Island Marine Protected Area.
Outplanting is the relocation of corals raised for nine to twelve months in our mid-water nurseries.
Corals in the nurseries start off as tiny fragments (Photo - Franki Rignace)
The corals in the nurseries start off as tiny fragments, ranging in size from 8 to 12 cm. They are collected from a donor reef. Most of these pieces are branching corals that have broken from the main coral colony due to wave action, predators, or other reasons.
Once they have grown to a suitable size, they are removed from the mid-water nurseries and outplanted onto selected degraded areas of the reef.
The process of outplanting begins with mixing cement with an adhesive that helps corals stick faster and better underwater. The cement mixture is placed in a piping bag to accompany divers underwater.
On the ocean floor, a hard substrate is identified. That is where the corals will be cemented.
Firstly, the substrate is brushed to remove any sand and algae, increasing the chance of successful attachment. We then check to see if any recruits or baby corals are growing on the plot as we do not place mature corals near recruits to avoid competition for light and space. Once a suitable place is identified the coral is cemented to the bare substrate.
Freshly outplanted corals at Athinopora (Photo - Athina Antoine)
A common method to ensure the initial success of the attachment is waving a hand to create water movement. This is to check if the coral can survive any strong currents or surges that could displace it within the next 48 hours when the cement has solidified completely.
After outplanting, hungry fish often feed on living organisms that reside between coral branches. While scavenging for food, they sometimes knock corals out of place.
For this and other reasons, a rescue dive is always planned after 24 hours to ensure outplanted corals are still properly placed on the substrate.
The corals that have been relocated onto the degraded reef have shown outstanding results and are flourishing. More than 5000 corals have been outplanted to Cousin’s fringing reefs since 2021. This is under the latest phase of the project supported by the Adaptation Fund, UNDP, and the Government of Seychelles.
I think outplanting is the best part of the restoration. The experience is like nurturing a baby until it has fully grown, and then setting it free. Seeing relocated corals thrive on a reef truly brings me joy and hope!
As I am always excited about outplanting corals, the team named one of the out-plant areas Athinopora after me, Athina, and my favourite coral species, Acropora!