Palm trees, blue lagoons, the sunset, a gentle breeze with a sense of ocean and girls in bikini… There are countless elements about the attraction of tropical islands we can talk about, but the most beautiful feature I encountered in my volunteering work in Fiji Islands is the blooming corals in a coral plantation.
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystem on this planet. From a conservation perspective, coral reefs provide shelters and food sources for about 4,000 fish species and hundreds of other species, including the threatened Natator depressus (flatback sea turtle) (NOAA 2008). Coral reef conservation can be a smart and effective way to protect habitats for many marine species. From a socio-economic perspective, the potential medical value in corals are unlimited. Coral reef plants and animals have been considered as a key to discover new medicines, some of them even have the possibility to cure cancer. (NOAA 2008)
The coral plantation in the North-East Naviti Island is a pilot program under local sea turtle conservation projects, by bringing their habitats back, matured baby turtles in the sea turtle nursery will have somewhere nice and safe to live and prosper. The idea of planting corals was inspired by coral reef management back to the end of last century. Marine scientists found that corals have a strong intention to stay together (no matter the place is already like a Japanese train in rush hour!), and this habit is killing themselves. Therefore, people up-root some of corals and put them elsewhere, and most of them lived after this human interference.
Many coral reef restoration program starts with planting asexual materials (normally cut-offs from the top of different matured corals) that collected from natural coral reefs in a water tank, but the limited funding drives
people in Naviti to use more local resources — constructing the coral nursery in shallow lagoons! The coral nursery is a platform comprised of iron nets, all the little “buds” that collected from natural coral reefs will be placed on man-made bases, which provide nutrients to coral buds, especially calcium. In previous experiments, people electrified the iron net in order to stimulate the concentration of calcium. After 6 months, coral buds on the iron net become bigger and more adaptive, they will be moved to a bigger space to grow. After another 18 months, they are as mature as coral reefs in the natural habitat. Most of them will be move back to the coral colonisation, others can provide seeds for the next planting session.
It was a four-day stay in Naviti Island, most of staff went to celebrate Easter holiday, so I did not have a chance to witness the entire process of coral planting, not to mention the whole process of growing. The biggest relief during this trip is that after seeing many coral reefs destroyed in intense tourism development (such as Bounty Island), we finally start to restore the habitats for coastal fish and sea turtles. In the other side of Naviti Island, local villagers and tourists were dancing with indigenous songs in the sunset.
Thanks for reading!
NOAA 2008, Importance of Coral Reefs, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce. Accessed 01 May 2014. Available at <http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_importance.html>.