By Student Delegate Suhasini Ghosh
Coral reefs are a valuable part of the marine ecosystem. Local economies and thousands of marine species rely on coral reefs for survival. However, coral reefs are in danger of disappearing due to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Increased temperatures and ocean acidification are two specific threats coral reefs are currently facing. Extreme heat causes coral bleaching. Coral reefs contain specific algae, which give them their vibrant colors. However, when coral bleaching takes place, the coral becomes stressed and then expels the algae. If the temperature is not reduced, the coral eventually dies. Ocean acidification is “the drop in seawater pH as the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide.” Coral reefs have calcium carbonate skeletons. But, ocean acidification causes a reduction in the amount of calcium available to keep the skeletons strong.
The species that rely on coral reefs risk extinction. Humans are also impacted by coral reef loss. For example, coral reefs serve as “natural barriers that absorb the force of waves and storm surges, keeping coastal communities safe.” Coral reefs also affect food and economic security for many communities.
The Seychelles economy is highly dependent on the ocean. Preserving coral reefs is a priority. In 2016, there was a significant El Nino event. The heat from the event caused a severe reduction in coral coverage in Seychelles. Specifically, before the event there was about 50% coral coverage, but the event reduced coral coverage to only 5%.
In 2010, the “Reef Rescuers” coral reef restoration project commenced in Seychelles. The Reef Rescuers project is an ecosystem-based adaptation approach to addressing climate change impacts. Nature Seychelles, a non-governmental organization, leads the project. The project received financial support from the United States Agency for International Development, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations Development Programme. The project aims to create and maintain underwater coral nurseries. Fragments from healthy coral are collected, raised in the nurseries, and then transplanted to a degraded reef site. Since the start of the project, about 40,000 corals have been raised in the nurseries. There has also been a five-fold increase in fish abundance.
There has been considerable private sector engagement with this ecosystem-based adaptation project. The project has targeted private sector stakeholders who have a specific interest in maintaining coral reefs. For example, the project has teamed with local “hotels to raise awareness of the benefits of coral reef transplantation, such as decreasing beach erosion and supporting the marine ecosystems that are critical to local tourism.” The project also collaborates with a local diving center to train diving instructors on how to perform coral restoration.
The Reef Rescuers project has garnered both regional and international support. The project has been featured in various international reports and presentations. Coral reefs take up less than 0.1% of the world’s surface area. Yet, they are home to over 25% of the world’s biodiversity. The world must get creative and prioritize restoring our coral reefs. The Reef Rescuers project is a great example of what can and is being done.