Divers Involvement, & Bonaire’s Coral Restoration Foundation
You probably have heard or read where certain coral cover around the world has declined by some 85%. There are several factors that have led to many corals becoming endangered species around the world and some of the reasons include: global warming, ocean acidification, agriculture runoff, hurricane damage, disease, human activity, coral bleaching, and macro algae competition. The long-spine Sea Urchin (Diadema antillarum) naturally grazes on the algae and reduces the amount of algae trying to cover and smother the coral, but with sea urchin populations growing low, algae is currently winning control over substrate space. Hurricanes on the other hand, can devastate an entire coral reef section within a few hours, just like fire can ravage a forest. Reforestation by planting small trees in burned out areas is a long standing tradition in the Northwest of America and reforestation techniques with corals that were tried and proven in Southeast Florida are now literally branching out with great success in Bonaire.
Keep in mind, that Bonaire has always had one of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world, especially with the deeper coral populations, but the people of Bonaire have been leaders in sustainable tourism and eco-tourism for quite some time as they have demonstrated by forming the first marine preserve areas in the Caribbean beginning with turtle protection in 1961, prohibition of spear fishing in 1971, protection of coral, dead or alive, in 1975, and with the help of Captain Don Stewart, Carel Steensma, and the Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation formed the Bonaire Marine park in 1979. It’s no wonder that when you ask a diver who has been to Bonaire, they can’t help but talk about the overall size of each fish and the vast numbers of turtles, fish, invertebrates and coral formations that they encountered on their trip or on a single dive. Watch their eyes light up with excitement as they relive their Bonaire diving experience.
Now divers are doing more than just protecting the coral. Like the reforestation of trees, they are planting and restoring small growths of coral at selected sites. Within two years, these new coral growths are spawning and adding new life and overall growth to the island’s reefs. It all started in 2009 when Augusto Montbrun contacted Ken Nydimyer of The Coral Restoration Foundation, (CRF) in Florida. For over 10 years CRF has been restoring reefs in Florida. They take 5cm/ 2inch starter samples from different genetic strains of staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmate) and grow them in a coral nursery area suspended by a string on a Line Nursery or Coral Tree Nursery until they reach 20cm/8inches, which can take nine months in Florida, or less time in areas such as in the pristine waters off Bonaire. CRF staff and designated divers then snip/prune off two thirds of the growing branch and then transplant this new growth piece of coral to its new marine substrate, home for life site, by way of underwater adhesive. Meanwhile the starter piece continues to grow more segments on the initial starter branch. The sites are monitored for growth and maintenance for at least two years. This way CRF members know which genotypes work best for which areas, check for disease, predation, and re-adhere broken branch pieces with underwater adhesive so that even broken off small pieces have a chance to re-attach and survive. These new growth corals have almost 100% chance of survival with the help and care of CRF.
Do you feel like you would like to be a part of this coral reforestation project too? Many divers are taking part in a volunteer tourism program that is also part of a distinctive specialty course offered through dive instructors and selected resorts. Through specialty courses like the PADI Coral Restoration Diver Distinctive Specialty, offered over 1.5-2 days, and with three dives total, divers will learn on dive number one how to do maintenance at nursery/restoration sites, conduct surveys, clean coral, and remove algae and coral predators. On dive two you learn how to prune/cut, tie and tag coral growth on nursery trees. On dive three you can learn how to transplant mature corals on to the reef. Some even offer a Coral Restoration Day dive where you will assist CRF guides at nurseries and restoration sites doing the particular tasks that need to be done that specific day, but typically you will use those skills that you learned through the previous three specialty course dives. The only problem we can see with this CRF program is the uncontrollable urge to literally watch your efforts grow into a full reef over time and years. This could become just another great reason to visit and dive Bonaire’s nursery reefs time and time again.
By 2013 over 1200 coral had been produced in Bonaire. Collectively, including Florida, CRF planted 5,000 staghorn and 4,100 elkhorn 2nd generation corals in 2013. They are also working with other governments such as with the Rosary Islands or the Parque Natural Corales del Rosario and San Vernardo in Venezuela where Acroporid corals are critically endangered. CRF received a NOAA grant in 2013 worth $700,000 over a three-year period. They also raised $120,000 at last years Coral Restoration Foundation Second Annual Gala in Key Largo. You can even help without getting wet by adopting a coral for $50, Plant a coral for $100, Adopt a Coral Tree Nursery for $500, or Plant a Coral Thicket for $1000. A single coral costs about $100 to maintain throughout the entire restoration process, and with 40,000 pieces growing in nurseries, you can imagine how your donation, as well as those of others, can impact reefs around the world. With strong reefs, we not only provide beauty to a barren substrate, but a habitat for small fish, a visiting site and a food source for larger ocean going fish passing by, and a destination full of diverse coral life for future snorkelers and scuba divers to view alike. For more information visit: www.coralrestoration.org. On Facebook visit: Coral Restoration Foundation or Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire.