Coral conservation in Maldives with Constance Hotels
Ever wondered what’s going on underneath the sparkling Maldives ocean? From mammals to molluscs, the marine life that inhabits the Maldives water is diverse and is held together by oceans coral reefs.
These coral reefs provide an ecosystem for life underwater, protect coastal areas by reducing the power of waves hitting the coast, and provide a crucial source of income for millions of people.
Did you know that coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet?
They are capable of producing half of the oxygen we breathe or creating the biggest structure made by living organisms that can be seen from space. Their complex tridimensional structure harbours the biggest amount of marine species per unit area when compared to other marine ecosystems.
It is like a small busy city where other animals and plants find shelter, food, or a partner to mate.
Coral reefs also support fishing and tourism industries, protect the shoreline and help fight climate change, among other key functions.
The most effective measure to safeguard these ecosystems and all the organisms that depend on them is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs).
Besides, the development of coral restoration projects worldwide, like the one in Constance Moofushi, contributes to this regard at a local scale.
The coral restoration project at Constance Moofushi started at the end of 2017 in partnership with Reefscapers, the leading coral restoration company in the Maldives.
The target is to help restore the natural coral reefs surrounding the island by growing corals on iron frames. The type of growing form used for the project is the branching type. This type grows faster and it is easier to collect than the massive one.
The small coral pieces are attached to the bars of the frames with cable ties and generally start growing after a few weeks. In approximately three-years’ time, and if no major events disturb the corals (for instance, a wave of coral bleaching), the whole structure will be covered by colonies, which then become the new source for more coral planting.
The frame becomes part of the natural reef but pieces of colonies can also be detached from it and placed back onto the degraded reef.
Guests visiting the resort are the main sponsors of the project. Purchasing the frames and attaching the corals before placing them in the water. All this of course under the supervision of our resident marine biologist in charge of the conservation project.
The small monetary benefits of the project are reinvested. For instance, planting more frames into the sea, inviting specialists in the field to the resort or organising a coral conservation day for local kids.
Moreover, the project has also a small social component because the frames are constructed in a local island called Fulhadhoo in Baa atoll by fishermen. Currently, there are 135 frames in the water divided into two main areas: the drop-off and the arrival jetty.
Have you seen any of these coral restoration projects during your travels?
How long does it take for corals to recover?
When corals are stressed, for instance, if the temperature of the ocean rises, they can turn white (bleaching). The reason for this change is the loss of the microscopic algae living inside of them (zooxanthellae) due to the stressful conditions.
Zooxanthellae are not only responsible for the amazing colours of the corals but provide most of the food corals need to survive and grow. The survival of coral reefs depends on their resistance to bleaching, tolerance to survive a beaching event and the level of recovery they display.
Every coral colony has a different set of genes and is surrounded by different environmental factors; hence, it becomes very difficult to predict the outcome from a bleaching event.
Nowadays, the biggest problem is the increased frequency of bleaching events due to climate change, combined with other stressing factors such as ocean acidification or water pollution. If the stressor is removed in a short period, corals are potentially capable of uptaking new algae and survive.
But if the stressor stays for a long time, it becomes hard for corals to go back to normal and survive.
Even if they survive a bleaching event, the overall health and capacity of the reef to reproduce is hindered.
Some experts point out that after following a major bleaching event, it takes around 5-10 years for corals to fully recover.
But as mentioned above, this is quite difficult to predict and it can never be assured it will come back to the previous state.
It may be a long road ahead, but let’s do all we can to help these corals bloom back into their prime condition.
Does coral need sunlight to grow?
Many corals, including all the reef-building corals (those capable of creating the living limestone structures called coral reefs), have microscopic unicellular algae (like “small plants”, called zooxanthellae) living within their tissues in a very successful relationship know as symbiosis. Both organisms benefit from it, with the algae finding shelter in the body of the coral and the coral getting food and oxygen from the algae.
We must remember that all plants (including the algae) photosynthesise, a process by which they absorb carbon dioxide and nutrients to build up sugars and release oxygen.
Since algae need sunlight to do the photosynthesis and survive, we could say that indeed corals need light too. The most interesting fact is that the algae cover almost 70 per cent of the coral needs. Hence, without this relationship between them, there would be no coral reefs in the world.
This also explains why corals thrive in poor waters low in nutrients. Corals get the rest 30 per cent of the food by sieving seawater with their tentacles. We don’t know about you but our mind is blown!
What’s the rarest coral?
In 2010, during an underwater survey in the remote North Pacific, specifically in the Arno atoll in the Marshall Islands, scientists discovered what could be the world’s rarest coral.
It looked very similar to the critically endangered Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) of the Atlantic Ocean, but genetic analyses made clear it was the Pacific Elkhorn coral (Acropora rotumana).
This species had not been spotted in over 100 years and it could be the same once described in Fiji islands in 1898, but no reliable data was gathered at that time.
If you spot this coral, make sure you get a snap of it!
What’s the role of Constance Moofushi’s marine biologists?
The marine biologist at Constance Moofushi, Estrella Gonzalez Tapias, manages the coral restoration project, gives four talks a week on marine life in the Maldives with a focus on conservation (manta rays, sea turtles, whale sharks and coral reefs), leads twice a week “Introduction to Moofushi reef”, and a presentation on marine life of the surrounding reefs.
She also takes guests on guided snorkelling trips to spot as much marine life as possible, joins as many whale shark trips as possible to enhance the guest experience and answer questions. She is also always around to meet guests and exchange knowledge with them.
So be sure to ask her any marine questions you have!
Estrella and Constance Moofushi’s team are also working on a number of projects. These include starting their own sea turtle database, to study the cetacean population near Moofushi, publishing their own guide to the reefs with photographs or broaden the resort’s collaboration with local NGOs such as Olive Ridley Project or Manta Trust! Talk about a dream job!
Have you ever been part of a coral restoration project? Are you feeling inspired to explore more of the ocean?