Restoring Coral in The Bahamas

coral

What do beer, cookies and the Bahamas have in common? Corona beer has partnered with a coral restoration project, Coral Vita, to cultivate climate change-resilient coral on concrete “cookies” for bridging barren patches between healthy coral reefs around the Bahamas. For those who make a donation to Bahamian marine biodiversity, Corona will match it! The Bahamas is renowned for its gorgeous clear waters, soft beaches and exotic coast lines.

Coral Vita in Grand Bahama is at the forefront of investing in coral science to revitalize ocean ecosystems, and is restoring coral reefs up to 50 times faster than their normal maturation. As these enchanting kaleidoscopes of nature bend and flow with the ocean currents, they are as fragile in their own nature as they are vital to our own defence. My visit to this popular, dynamic tourist destination is illuminating.

coral
Oleksandr Sushko, unsplash

Coral Reefs, the rain forests of the oceans, are those vibrantly-coloured other-worldly constructions that are the dreamscape every diver seeks. But they’re not just exotic to look at, they have real and vital functions and are among the most important ecosystems on the planet. The reef structures, along with mangroves, are the last lines of defence. They are natural barriers against storm surges and floods. Without coral reefs there is nothing to break down waves and defend against coastal erosion. They reduce wave energy by up to 97%. Even though they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, they’re the most bio-diverse ecosystems on Earth, supporting 25% of all marine life. There are also 400 times more medical compounds found in coral reefs than in tropical rain forests.

Coral
Sandy Ravaloniaina, unsplash

Part plant, part animal, part rock, coral is made up of massive colonies of polyps lined with microscopic algae in their tissue, secreting calcium and limestone to form exoskeletons that combine into reefs. The Bahamian islands, for example, are made up of the limestone created by coral.

The problem is that climate destabilization and ocean acidification and warming have increased coral vulnerability, exposing them to waterborne pathogens that cause coral disease and extinction. Coastal construction, careless recreation, invasive species, pollution, storm intensity and frequency are all contributing factors to their rapid global collapse. This is an existential problem. An estimated 90% of the world’s coral will be dead by 2050. 50% of coral reefs are already dead, and this has all happened within the last few decades. That number is even higher in the Caribbean where 60-80% of coral is already dead.

(See the difference between a coastline protected by coral and mangroves, and one without them.)

The ocean is a carbon sink, sequestering carbon, but as we emit more carbon into the atmosphere, the oceans absorb more than usual to maintain balance, which makes the water acidic and carbonated, like a Coke or a Sprite. That acidity weakens the exoskeletal structure of the coral which, combined with the intensity of the sun, bleaches and kills it. It’s essentially getting cooked.

Leading the effort towards a solution are two land-based coral nurseries in the Bahamas that nurture coral fragments through “micro-fragmenting” at coral farms, in which coral is cut to fingernail size pieces and then fused together, speeding their growth up to 50 times faster and decreasing their maturation process from decades to mere months. Acclimating coral to future ocean conditions through assisted evolution strengthens coral resistance to climate change.

coral
Coral Cookies

There are many coral practitioners around the world investing in restoration and revitalization, but there is no scale-able modal. The attention paid to coral science in government policies and in private and international investment is becoming increasingly vital as warmer, more acidic waters threaten our coastlines. The aim of Coral Vita is to make coral more resistant to increased temperatures and acidity.

What are Coral Cookies?

Coral Vita farms produces millions of corals from ten different varieties, and encrusts their micro-fragments onto “coral cookies” made of concrete, before planting them in the ocean reef by drilling them into degraded coral sites. It’s an incredible process, and we get to see that at the farm.

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coral cookies
Coral Cookies

Coral restoration specialist, Alannah Vellacott, shares with me that the coral calamity is not natural; it is a casualty of human actions. Her team is working in overdrive to compensate, but ultimately the climate is changing, because we are not. We have to change our causal behaviours, and not just respond to the consequences of them.

Did you know Viagra comes from coral? So many beauty products as well as treatments for Alzheimer’s and several auto-immune disorders are also derived from coral. At Coral Vita we learn about coral and see reef restoration in action. As we’re guided around the farm, I dip my hands in the aquaculture tanks of the coral cookies and feel amazing little sea critters like starfish in the palm of my hand.

coral
Coral Cookies

So many industries, from cosmetic to medical, let alone bio-diverse ecosystems and oceanic structures, are directly dependent on coral reefs, so investment in restoring them is absolutely vital. By the end of my visit, I feel totally compelled to do my part by “adopting” coral, and leave here feeling some optimism within the urgency, but it is a race against time.

For more information on Coral Vita go to: www.coralvita.co/next

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