What’s not a rock but looks like one? What’s not a plant but an animal rooted to the seafloor? It’s coral!
This unique animal is a precious creature, home to a vast diversity of irreplaceable wildlife that provide an important ecosystem for life underwater. As healthy corals grow and expand, reefs take on one of three major characteristic structures — fringing, barrier or atoll – with vibrant colors and a striking level of biodiversity. The world’s coral reef ecosystem supports many food chains with its primary producers – plankton and algae – feeding small sea creatures that feed bigger ones and a vital source of food and income for millions of people. Coral reefs also work to protect coastal areas by reducing the power of the waves that hit the coast.
Man-made climate emergencies are changing the ocean and dramatically affecting coral reef ecosystems through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. Coral reefs are under stress around the world by changes in temperature, light, or nutrients, and they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. Corals have been known to recover if the stress-caused bleaching is not severe, but if the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, the coral eventually dies.
Reefscapers began their coral restoration efforts in 2000 as a response to the devastating coral bleaching event in the Maldives in 1998. In partnership with Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa, in the North Male Atoll, Reefscapers pioneered an innovative man-made coral frame structure produced in Fulhadhoo, South Maalhosmadulhu Atoll to support local communities. Coral fragments are grown from wild colonies and “outplanted” onto new frames, creating a genetic replica of the colony the fragment was taken from. Brilliant!
Reefscapers and Four Seasons properties in the Maldives encourage guests to sponsor a coral frame during their stay. They receive an individual frame number and participate in the building of their frame. Sponsors are able to view photos of their frame in a public facing website updated every 6 months by coral biologists who collect a vast amount of data utilizing an Artificial Intelligence program developed at Landaa.
Since the Reefscaper program began, they have placed over 500,000 fragments of coral back on to the Maldivian reefs. In the last 3 years, they have been responsible for an increase of over 700 liters of outplanted coral, which has translated to over 2300 liters of natural growth of outplanted corals.
ADOPT-A-CORAL sponsorship by individuals and companies will support SDG 14 – LIFE BELOW WATER – to help conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
A FORCE FOR GOOD
What travelers want today are experiences that connect us deeply to the natural world, rich cultures, beautiful communities, and most importantly, ourselves. They want to stay in places they can trust, operated by those who understand that this is the true definition of luxury, and it is not new or a trend, it is a commitment from the heart to ensure the wellbeing of people and the planet.
Four Seasons Resorts in the Maldives is a leading example in this new era of sustainable travel. In partnership with the NOW Force for Good Alliance, the team is seriously committed to doing more to advance sustainability in all its forms with accountability and transparency. Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru is the first of 3 properties to implement the rigorous EarthCheck Certified programme with annual independent audit.
It’s Marine Discovery Centre is led by a team of passionate marine biologists. Guests experience once-in-a-lifetime encounters with a variety of marine creatures while learning about life and habitat, as well as participate in some of the resort’s inspiring conservation projects. The Reefscapers program offers guests a unique opportunity to participate in the building of coral reefs, and for the lucky ones, have a delightful and unforgettable underwater birthday party!
PIONEERING CORAL REEF RESTORATION
Reefscapers restoration efforts aim to encourage the coral’s resistant genetic trait to create hardy coral colonies which can survive bleaching events. They are selected for transplant to coral frames supported by long-term photo-monitoring and maintenance. A relatively new technique for coral restoration, sexual reproduction is the mixing of different genetic strains which can only be achieved by collecting eggs and sperm from different colonies, fertilising them and then aiding their development in aquariums before allowing them to “settle” on small sections of reef rubble. The settled larvae then form a new coral colony and are a mix of the different genetics from the initially sampled colonies to encourage the “strong” genes to survive.
Difficulties abound with this innovative technique with the infrequent nature of coral spawning (in some locations it only occurs once a year) requiring very specific environmental conditions based on sea surface temperature, weather patterns, the lunar cycle and the maturity of a colony; and the complicated process of fertilisation, developing the larvae and then settlement techniques. Once established, it can allow a restoration program to increase coral cover by fragmentation and add new genetic strains to the reef in large numbers to resist the bleaching events and protect the diversity of species.
Reefscapers recruited the first marine biologists in the Maldives (2008), implementing marine conservation projects to educate, understand, and improve the marine environment. Their programs range from guest excursions to beach erosion control, to the management of marine education centres. They also established the first sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre in the Maldives (2011), successfully treating and re-releasing hundreds of rescue turtles over 10 years.
The destructive 2016 coral bleaching event was widely reported in the Maldives where around 70% of its coral cover was lost due to elevated water temperatures. Without restoration, there would only be 30% cover when the next bleaching event happens, resulting in calamitous extinction of some species.
INCREASING CLIMATE CRISIS ON CORAL REEFS
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) 2020 Report highlights the devastating impact of accelerating climate crisis on coral reefs. 275 million people directly depend on reefs for their livelihoods and sustenance, and the loss of functions from coral reefs compounds the vulnerabilities of those who are already greatly exposed to climate change impacts, in particular the populations of small island developing states. These irreplaceable coral species have also been the source of vital medicines used to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s and bacterial infections, among many other conditions.
Tourism will suffer, a crucial part of the economy for many small countries with reefs. Worldwide, reef tourism is estimated to be worth US$9.6 billion.
Failure to act now to protect these precious corals will cause environmental ruin and with it a catastrophic human tragedy. The IPCC predicts that 99% of corals will be lost under 2°C of global heating. Pollution and unsustainable fishing present further threats. A combination of immediate action on greenhouse gas emissions, an end to destructive fishing practices and effective protection for 30% of the world’s oceans is urgently needed, says EJF. Urgent action in line with the Paris Agreement to restrict temperature rise to 1.5°C is the first vital step, says the report. A full transition to zero carbon by all major industrialised economies is needed by 2030, or better, transition to Climate Positive (also known as Carbon Negative) at speed.
March 3rd is World Wildlife Day and our huge support is vital, not just for this day, but everyday.