About 1600 km east of the African coast in the Indian Ocean lies the Seychelles archipelago, which consists of 115 islands. In addition to rare animal and bird species, numerous untouched beaches, nature reserves and coral reefs dominate the Seychelles.
In recent years, the island state’s marine ecosystem has been severely threatened by climate change. Ocean warming and coral bleaching events have had a devastating impact on coral reefs, which are critical to supporting marine biodiversity. Coastal communities rely heavily on these resources for livelihoods, including fishing and tourism, two of the Seychelles’ main economic activities. In addition, reefs act as the country’s first line of defense against rising sea levels.
While global warming has had a devastating impact on the Seychelles’ coral reefs, other natural events such as the catastrophic El Nino event in the Indian Ocean in 1998 resulted in an average loss of 90% living coral cover in 1998 and a further loss of 50% in 2016 Further underlined by research carried out which indicated that the corals are unlikely to recover without intervention. Against this background, a project to save the coral reef of the Seychelles was started in 2010. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and later by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is carried out by Nature Seychelles (BirdLife partners) aims to restore damaged coral reefs by growing and growing different types of coral in nurseries be transplanted to degraded locations.
Since 2010, scientists using the coral gardening technique have grown corals that have been collected in underwater nurseries in healthy locations, resized to satisfactory sizes, and transplanted to degraded sites. To date, over 40,000 coral fragments have been transplanted at underwater nurseries at selected locations in the Cousin Island Special Reserve, a 52-year-old marine sanctuary (MPA), onto a 5,225-square-foot degraded reef the size of a football field. managed by Nature Seychelles.
This coral restoration project or Reef Rescuers project is the first of its kind to test the coral garden method for restoration on a large scale and thus make it scientifically significant. “Through this scientifically sound restoration, the natural eeychelles have significantly expanded the experimental technology and at the same time achieved the necessary research and development for the next phase of coral culture and restoration,” says Dr. Nirmal Shah, CEO of Nature Seychelles.
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As a result of this project, over 50 scientists and volunteer scientific divers from around the world have learned about the coral garden as a reef restoration method. This will go a long way in bringing tried and tested methods, tools and trained personnel to areas around the world that are also prone to reef degradation. A toolkit has also been developed to provide information about the lessons learned to help others who wish to do similar work. “As Seychelles, I am excited to be part of this major coral recovery effort that has been damaged by coral bleaching in Seychelles,” said Athina Antoine, a member of the Reef Rescuers team.
As part of this project, the Ocean Restoration Center for Awareness and Learning (CORAL) was created to serve as a national and regional hub for knowledge sharing on the conservation and restoration of coral reefs. The long-term success of the project is currently being assessed. Initial data show an increase in both coral recruitment and fish density after the intervention, underscoring the benefits of active reef restoration.
At the beginning of the project, Nature Seychelles hoped that the success of this initiative could be replicated elsewhere in the Seychelles. As proof of the scalability of the project, additional support was provided from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the GEF Tourism Partnership Program to transplant 2,015 corals in an area of 1,636 m2 in a small cove (Petite Anse Kerlan) within the USA ran Constance Lemuria 5 star resort in Praslin.
Additional support from the European Union (EU) by the Indian Ocean Commission led to a project with the 5-star resort Six Senses Zil Pasyon on Felicite Island. This 18-month project aimed to restore the coral population in Coco Island National Park. The project carried out a feasibility assessment, built a coral nursery and supplied it with 2,000 coral fragments collected from donor sites.
Through international training in 2015 and regional training attended by participants from the western Indian Ocean in 2019, the project has launched similar projects from others elsewhere, including smaller projects run by communities. Coral reef restoration efforts have also begun in other countries such as Colombia.
As coral restoration efforts continue, the natural eeychelle is looking for opportunities to establish tree nurseries on land at its CORAL center on Praslin Island. This allows corals to be more resilient to the warming and acidification of marine conditions, and allows techniques such as microfragmentation to be used for rapid growth.