Coral Planting Exhibition 31 May 2015

TRACC Coral Planting Exhibition 31st May 2015

Emily teaching the next generation
about the threats facing our oceans.
With 75% of all coral reefs on our planet considered severely degraded, reefs are an ecosystem that need lots of positive human intervention.  There are many stressors facing coral reefs including climate change, ocean acidification, increasing amounts of persistent organic pollutants, overfishing, destructive fishing practices (including blast fishing and cyanide fishing) and coastal development. All of these, at least in some respects, are caused by human activity.

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the ocean, and, like the rainforests; they are shrinking at an alarming rate. They cover less than 2% of the oceans benthic environment but ¼ of all oceanic species depend on them. They are an important and fragile ecosystem which we as a species are having a negative effect on. It is for this reason why TRACC with support from the SGP/GEF/UNDP is holding a series of coral planting days open to the general public. Our aims are simple, to have the public actively involved with conservation, and, whilst they are doing so, educate them on the fragility of the ocean and how they can help. 

Visitors learning about coral planting and reef restoration
Todays exhibition was held on the 31st of May 2015 and was second in our series of planned events for the Tip of Borneo. The team arose early in the morning to secure a booth on the beach. With thanks to the local police force we had a supply of electricity. Our booth (shown above and below) had many informative banners on coral planting, shark fin soup, ocean pollution and blast fishing as they are the main issues around this area. Here we presented what we know to be local threats affecting local environments and discussed it with our visitors. After showing the public about some of the threats facing their local environment, all were motivated to partake in some hands on conservation. At this stage we introduced them to our coral planting techniques.

What are Corals?
Large groups getting involved with the
important work of rebuilding coral reefs
Firstly to know about coral planting you need to know what corals are. Corals are animals like you or I. However, they grow like plants and also they get their energy from the sun.  They do this by having algae live inside them. The corals act as a landlord and the algae pay rent with food. This mutually beneficial relationship between two different organisms is known in the science community as a symbiotic relationship. Both corals and algae need to be in good health to produce a healthy reef. A healthy reef provides; hunting, grazing, breeding and mating grounds for ¼ of all oceanic species. Healthy reefs mean healthy oceans; this is why at TRACC we focus on these bio-diverse hotspots. 

Jason making artificial reef,
the foundations of coral planting.

What is Coral Planting?
As corals grow like plants, it is possible to plant coral. All you need is a piece of live coral and a hard surface for it to grow on. What we do at TRACC is collect corals from the reef that have broken off in storms or through anchor damage, these corals would normally die and so we call them corals of opportunity. We embed these corals of opportunity into cement. The cement then sets underwater and you then have a coral you now plant. We then use these embedded corals to add life to our artificial reefs, creating an artificial coral reef.

How did our event run?
Coral planting is hard work, as all who have volunteered at TRACC will know. [For more information on volunteering with TRACC click HERE]. It mainly consists of diving, collecting coral fragments,  making cement structures and lifting heavy cement blocks into place! To make this easily engaging for the public we had to do a little prep work.

Over the last four weeks, the entire TRACC science team has been preparing in Kudat for these upcoming events leading to World Environment Day and  World Ocean Day.  Firstly a large, stable underwater site had to be found, here we dropped our bottle reefs in a square fashion – these will make a large stable artificial reef which, after the event, will be where the corals are permanently planted. 
(Other reefs we made in Kudat 2014/15 within the proposed Tun Mustapha Park -->Here)
Keeping the corals in water
to minimize stress and
increase survival rates

Secondly we pre-made molds. These are small concrete disks, roughly the size of a coffee mug, with holes in (you can see them in the photo above). These provide the ‘plant pots’ for our live coral. The idea is that the small disks, which we have named biscuits, act as a base for the corals. The small holes in the disks have coral fragments put inside them and they are then cemented into place ready for planting.  

On the day of the event it was an early start for all. The team was split up into two group. One who set up our information booth, along with all the essentials for coral planting. The other team was in charge of collecting corals of opportunity. It is important to collect these on the day to minimize the stress facing the corals. The more stress the corals undergo the more they are likely to bleach and die.

Mixing the cement into a thick paste,
which is best for planting the corals
Picking which coral fragment
will grow well in her biscuit
All visitors who came were given a small cup sized container in which they mixed sand, cement and water so make a thick paste.  After this they would come to the area where the corals were being stored. Our staff would talk them through the biology of corals and help them choose suitable coral fragments. The public would then plant the coral fragments in the pre-made biscuits mentioned earlier, and help return these to the ocean ready for placement in our nursery the next day.

The finished product: a coral biscuit ready for
planting back in the ocean

In total, we planted three full boxes of coral fragments, a huge achievement in a days work. I’d like to thank all who participated in the days coral planting as well as my co-workers Kit, Jason and Emily - who have been working very hard to make these large events run as smoothly as possible.  Thanks also to the SGP/GEF/UNDP for assistance with funding these events.

More about engaging the community to protect reefs.

To know more about our coral planting techniques and our upcoming events  please like us or follow us on Facebook or google+ or read our tweets :-)

The Volunteers blog  for accounts of our conservation efforts, reef construction and surveys.

More info about learning to dive or volunteering to help save the ocean with TRACC in Malaysia.