Coral Restoration: Our Research Trip to Nusa Lembongan

Coral Restoration

Corals are not only pretty to look at! They are vital to marine life. Coral reefs also protect the shores from storms and tsunamis. They even prevent erosion of beaches. And it’s the only living organism that can be seen from outer space!

Are you convinced that corals are awesome yet? We definitely think so! That’s why we went to learn about coral restoration in Nusa Lembongan in Bali. Come along the ride.

The Shark Warrior Family went on a research trip to Nusa Lembongan to learn about Coral Restoration

Understanding Corals

It’s time for a 1-minute biology lesson about corals. Understanding the physiology of a coral is not easy, but let’s try anyway. Corals are animals. Invertebrates in fact, which is the same family as jellyfish.

There are soft corals and hard corals. Hard corals are the ones that build the reef… Wait! Build the reef? Are reefs and corals not the same thing? No, actually the coral is the animal and the reef is the structure that the corals live on, which is built by the coral. The coral reef is the whole ecosystem.

The body of a coral is called a polyp. The body is pretty much only made up of a stomach and a mouth. Doesn’t that sound ideal? We bet even if they had a brain, all they could think about would be food! The mouth has tentacles, which the coral uses for hunting. It eats anything from microscopic plankton to tiny fish.

Each polyp is one marine animal. Some polyps, like the mushroom coral, live alone. But most polyps live in big colonies and are dependent on each other like one organism.

The coral body is called a polyp and each polyp has a mouth with tentacles which they use for hunting

Why Coral Restoration?

Corals have existed for about 450 million years, which is 250 million years longer than the dinosaurs. Still, corals are fragile organisms. Coral bleaching is a worldwide phenomenon, which happens when the coral gets stressed. When the coral gets stressed it expels the algae that live inside their tissues. Coral bleaching happens mainly from global warming.

Just because our name is Gili Shark Conservation, doesn’t mean we only work with sharks. We operate from a standpoint that without coral reefs, there would be no bony fish. Without bony fish, there would be no bigger bony fish. And without bigger bony fish, there would be no sharks. That’s why we’re passionate to learn more about coral restoration.

Global warming is often the cause of coral bleaching where the coral expels its algae and turns white.

A Research Trip To Bali

That’s how our family of Shark Warriors ended up in Nusa Lembongan at Blue Corner Marine Research. This scientific department of Blue Corner Dive, led by Andrew Taylor, offers courses in coral restoration, which was exactly what we were looking for!

Day 1:  Preparing the frames

We arrived at Blue Corner, Lembongan, in the late afternoon and cracked upon the course straight away. After the first presentation, we each grabbed a metal frame and a paintbrush.

Before placing the frames in the ocean, we were going to treat them with epoxy and a layer of sand. Covering the frames with sand makes the surface more natural and inviting for the corals to make it their new home. Still, we would only treat every second frame. This way, the research team at Blue Corner Marine Research could observe differences in coral growth on various surfaces.

We applied epoxy and sand to half of the frames to make them more appealing as a new coral home

Day 2: Dropping frames

First dive: Investigating the dive site

Our second day of the course was going to be more eventful. After a quick presentation, we ventured out to sea. The objective of the first dive, was going to check out the coral restoration that Blue Corner had already done on the north side of Nusa Penida.

There was already around 50 frames at the coral restoration site. Andrew told us that before starting a coral restoration project it’s important to take several factors into account. You should ask yourself these three questions before starting a project:

  1. Is coral restoration in that area necessary?
  2. If yes, could you help the corals in that area by simply securing their substrate?
  3. If you decide that a restoration project is necessary – which method will you use?

We dropped 16 frames into the shallow reef but made sure to avoid any healthy corals

Second dive: Placing the frames

On our second dive, we went to place our frames. First, we dropped them from the boat into the shallow, where we made sure they wouldn’t hit any healthy corals. Afterward, we went diving in buddy teams to carry one frame at a time and place them next to the existing frames on the dive site.

Nusa Lembongan is famous for their currents and so we experienced this day. But fighting the current to place the frames only made the mission feel even more awesome!

Finally, we had to hammer the frames into the substrate. It felt like doing commercial diving, except even better, because we did it with a mission. Who knew coral restoration was so badass?

We hammered the frames into the substrate of the reef so they wouldn’t get affected by current and surge

Day 3: A new home for the coral babies

Third dive: Coral harvesting 

The third and last day in Lembongan had come faster than we wanted it to. But we were eager to continue the project. The first dive of the day was going to focus on the harvesting of corals.

There are a few ways of transplanting coral. The way Andrew found most appropriate for the conditions in Nusa Lembongan was to harvest corals from a healthy colony. When harvesting coral, you first make sure that the parent colony is healthy and big enough to borrow coral from. Then you want to ensure that you don’t harvest more than 10%. If you harvest corals from an existing colony, rather than finding broken coral, the success rate is higher. This is because you can make sure that you are only spreading strong genes.

Back on the boat, we broke the coral fragments into smaller pieces. Andrew told us that corals fragments actually grow faster if the pieces are smaller. So we aimed to make every fragment 10 cm.

When the coral gets stressed, it expels a gooey substance. This made the process of handling the fragments stressful for us as well. You know how it feels. When your best friend is sad, you are sad too. But we kept telling them that it was for the best!

Coral Restoration Project On The Gili Islands

Second dive: Here are the keys to your new home

The time had finally come for us to place our coral babies on their new homes in Nusa Lembongan. We each had the mission of placing 60 pieces spread on 2 frames; one with sand and one without.

Andrew had told us to keep an eye on our air gauge while diving. He said it’s easy to get carried away while transplanting corals. And boy, was he right! We completely forgot about time and space. Time flew by and without blinking, 60 minutes had passed. But we made it! We added another 16 frames in total to Andrew’s coral garden.

Finally we could transplant the coral babies onto their new homes in Nusa Lembongan

Outro

After securing a bright future for our coral babies, it was time to head back to our paradise-home on Gili Air. The Gilis is a place where coral restoration projects are much needed.

In the past, dynamite fishing regularly happened around the islands, which has left its mark. The coral reefs have seen a significant decrease. The proof is visible on all dive sites from the dead rubble coral. But as Mama Ocean, Sylvia Earle, says, “It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance.”

That’s why we are beyond excited to explore the possibilities our new knowledge, about coral restoration, will bring. All we know is that little by little, a little becomes a lot.

Are you ready to be part of the solution? Become a Shark Warrior!

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