Coral Restoration on a Maldivian Reef
Spread throughout the Indian Ocean lies a tropical paradise, with white beaches, crystal clear ocean and epic marine biodiversity. Comprised of 26 Atolls and 1,190 coral islands, the nation relies on its jaw dropping and world-renowned coral reefs for tourism, coastal protection and food. The Maldives has been a tropical paradise on many bucket-lists for decades. In recent years, however, this incredible nation has felt the adverse impacts of climate change; including warming oceans, rising sea-levels and coral bleaching.
In 1998, Maldivian reefs were subject to a devastating mass bleaching event in which the percentage of coral cover drastically declined from 40 % to just over 1 %. This annihilated up to 60 % of the country’s reefs. As coral recovery rates were improving, another mass bleaching event struck in 2016, which halted coral recuperation causing unparalleled and detrimental effects to these ecosystems.
The structurally complex, fast-growing tabular and branching species were the most affected and suffered mass mortalities. This left Maldivian reefs with a low percentage of coral cover, elevated areas of rubble and less surface roughness – a characteristic which helps promote growth.
Velaa Coral Project
Since the 2016 mass bleaching disturbance, the Velaa Coral Restoration Project has aimed to reduce ecosystem decline by resorting the integrity, complexity, and biodiversity of the house reef to enhance recovery rates. I was lucky enough to find myself working on the Project, situated in Noonu Atoll in 2018/19. Here I was taught by an incredible team on key restoration techniques that I later used in Cambodia. The project is home to one of the first large scale midwater floating nurseries in the Maldives. At full capacity, the five nurseries can hold over 10,000 corals.
The project explores a variety of research questions, including the use of midwater floating nurseries in the Maldives, coral growth rates and survivorship in a nursery and transplant setting, bleaching mitigation strategies, coral recruitment and microfragmenting to name a few. In the first three years of the project coral cover around the island increased by 3%. An increase in fish abundance was also observed in the transplant areas and their adjacent degraded sites demonstrating the early success of the team's restoration efforts.