Larger is better. Well, at least when it comes to reef restoration, we do believe larger is indeed better. When we go larger, we achieve a high ecological and social impact. Let us explain.

The Reef Rescuers project in the Seychelles, between 2011 and 2014, use large-scale rope nurseries to grow more than 40K fragments and transplanted over 24K of those in 5000 m2. The assessment of the ecological impact generated by this large effort provided evidence to suggest that large-scale coral reef gardening can enhance natural reef recovery. It could double coral settlement and recruitment, increased fish density and build resistance to bleaching, with some of the effects prevailing beyond natural disturbance (Shute et al. in prep). The results we saw were in contrast to what smaller projects had seen until then which lead us to propose that when it comes to the ecological footprint of reef restoration, larger is better.

¿But could this positive effect extend to the social component of reef restoration? We mean, why are we restoring coral reefs anyway if is not for having communities continue enjoying the services that coral reefs provide to them.

Our Project in Short

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 14

Haciendo posible esta meta!

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 14

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

14. 2. By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.

14. 5. By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.

The Six Steps of Larger Is Better

Six Steps of Our Proposal Larger is Better - Mas Grande Mas Efectivo

In some way, Corales de Paz was established in 2016 to answer this question. We work towards sustainable coral reefs. Corales de Paz flagship project is Large is better: Pioneering large-scale coral reef restoration in Colombia, a 5-year project with a goal to promote an increase in the magnitude of coral gardening and the empowerment of reef users in order to have a long-lasting and high social and ecological impact at intervened reefs.

Our objective with this initiative to increase national restoration efforts by changing the magnitude of cultivation and transplantation, ≥10000 colonies grown and transplanted on ≥1 ha of reef degraded per intervened coral area. This change in the scale of coral restoration in Colombia will result in an increase of at least 10% in live coral cover, coral recruitment, and an increase in fish biomass at the intervened areas, which in turn will promote the natural recovery and adaptive resilience of Colombia´s coral reefs.

Over the five (5) years, the initiative will  1) assess the current restoration efforts in Colombia, 2) capitalize and transfer the team’s expertise in large-scale coral reef restoration, 3) start large-scale coral gardening projects with the active participation of trained local communities, 4) monitor and evaluate the ecological and social impacts of the interventions, 5)  implement market instruments associated with restoration to achieve the sustainability of the recovery actions, and 6) package of lessons learned in a plan of action to extend and replicate in other parts of Colombia and abroad. The initiative and its expected results will complement Colombia’s passive conservation strategies.

From this initiative, Colombia’s largest coral reef rehabilitation project was launched in October 2017 at the Reserva de Biosfera Seaflower. In its first year of the Reef for All project, eight mid-water floating rope nurseries were built in San Andres and Providencia islands, increasing the national capacity to grow corals from a couple thousand to more than 16,000 fragments of different coral reef species, but targeting the three endangered Acropora species.

By the end of 2018, 13468 fragments of four species of hard corals were growing in the nurseries. In October 2018 we started out planting nursery-grown corals and by January 2020, we have outplanted 6522 nursery-grown corals in one hectare of reef, combining the areas intervened in both island. Preliminary results showed an average increase of 41% in live coral cover at intervened sites and an ecological footprint (i.e. area in rehabilitation) of ca 4.5 hectares. We have achieved what other projects in the Caribbean took almost 10 years to achieve at a cost of USD $60 per square meter of reef rehabilitated.

 

Check research products from the project

Partners in the large-scale coral reef restoration “Reef for All” project include the Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries from the Government of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, the provincial environmental authority CORALINA, Conservation International Colombia, and the Corales de Paz. Other local NGOs and diving operators also collaborated in different stages of the project.

We are yet to see any positive ecological impact on the intervened reefs. However, it is clear that we have achieved a large positive social impact. The construction, installation, stocking, and monitoring of nurseries and corals were conducted by more than 50 people representing different relevant local social actors, aimed at developing the local capacity in coral gardening (see our Reef Repair Diver program) and the monitoring of coral reefs (see the Reef Check EcoDiver program) in the archipelago. We also piloted the first payment for ecosystem services scheme for marine areas in Colombia which sought to offer an alternative livelihood to artisanal fishermen committed to enforcing local coral reef protection, reduce local coral reef threats, and assist with the project´s coral rehabilitation activities within voluntary conservation agreements (VCA).

The coral reef crisis is a life threatening situation. It demands science-based bold actions that must have results at large scales. The only risk we face by taking action is failing and continue with business as usual.

– Phanor H Montoya Maya, Ph.D.

So, for us at Corales de Paz and collaborating organizations, we indeed believe that larger is better. In three years, we expect to see that the joint protection of selected sites with the addition of ca. 5,000 nursery-grown coral colonies per hectare, lead to a 10% increase in the live coral cover, fish biomass, aesthetic value, and structural complexity and overall health at intervened coral reefs within the Seaflower MPA.

How much better is larger? We are still monitoring and evaluating our outplanted sites. We are using photo-mosaics to assess survival and growth together with standard coral reef monitoring techniques, which you can take part in by becoming a Reef Check Ecodiver. We continue to publish and share our results with coral scientists, reef practitioners, and the public at large. We invite you to keep following us to learn how much larger is better!