By Elisa Bertesago, Biologist and Biotechnology Student, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. 

We live on a blue planet where oceans are the main source of life since every living being comes and relies on water. Even if they cover less than 1% of oceans’ floor, coral reefs are one of the most amazing marine ecosystems: 25% of marine inhabitants depend on it in some moments of their life, human beings have to be thankful too to this ecosystem that dispenses oxygen, works continuously as the main bio-constructor, offers a natural protection for coasts, offers food and economic income thanks to tourism, and finally its beauty is a gift for human eyes.

If I close my eyes and I try to imagine the most breathtaking place I saw, the sound of bubbles and waves comes in my mind and a colorful carpet of corals, populated by a flood of fishes and other marine lives, overcrowds my thoughts. It’s like a natural museum, a moving masterpiece that we have the luck to admire whenever we want. Or sadly, one day, we should say ‘we had’. In fact, this amazing ecosystem is seriously in danger and human responsibility is unequivocal. In this geological era that we could call Anthropocene, human impact on the planet is amazing and frightening at the same time. The human development that permitted the achievement of a high-quality lifestyle, on the other side puts in serious danger the entire planet: climate change and pollution are globally threatening human health and many species’ survival, thus coral reefs and their inhabitants are in danger too.

In this context, coral reefs’ ecosystem results particularly sensitive to environmental changes induced by humans: rising temperatures and sea level, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, over-fishing, thoughtless tourism are a concrete threaten for this ecosystem whose remarkable resilience is put to the test. Nowadays, 75% of coral reefs are threatened by these stressors and by 2050 all world reefs will face the same fate if we do not act to contain the human impact. Time is running and we must act now: firstly, conserving what is still alive and healthy, reducing in any way local stressors, secondly actively rebuilding irreversibly damaged coral reefs through coral restoration plans.

When coral restoration is the only option, here the necessity of a team made of competent, passionate and hopeful people comes in to place, people who can plan, coordinate, monitor and implement a coral restoration project. Luckily I found such a team during the Maldivian Coral Reef Restoration Workshop, held in the Marine Research and High Education (MaRHE) center on Magoodhoo island, Maldives, in collaboration with Corales De Paz. During this workshop a selected group of trainees, with different areas of expertise but united by the same sensitivity for the protection of the coral reef, was introduced in today’s coral restoration world and could put directly into practice the most diverse techniques in use, acquiring those tools and skills that practitioners should have in their toolbox.

It was a pleasure and an honor to be part of this experience. I was probably one of the most inexperienced in the team, a biologist and at the moment a biotechnology student, with an Open Water Diver license and an immeasurable love for the sea. During dives, my naïve eyes are always enchanted by the coral reef ecosystem and I feel completely happy when I can appreciate its uniqueness. And I want to preserve it. This workshop gave me the hope that this underwater sanctuary violated by humans now can be saved by humans too. During the intense days of this experience, we were exposed to large-scale coral gardening, microfragmentation, interventions in unconsolidated substrates, 3D modeling for restoration monitoring and community involvement. During classroom sessions, land sessions and dive sessions we learned both in theory and in practice how to approach a project of coral restoration.

I believe that this kind of experiences, that spread a deep consciousness of coral reefs’ importance, provide tools to restore them, create a dense network between trainees and thus they are essential to give hope to this underwater heaven because a healthier coral reef makes a healthier ocean and it makes a healthier planet. Our blue planet.

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