Coral Planting in Raja Ampat during COVID-19

  • May 21, 2020

In several years, we will look back at this crazy time and ask each other “What were you doing during COVID-19 lockdown?”. Well, we will probably answer “planting corals”. When the whole world seems to be collapsing, what could be more satisfying than watching a little piece of coral growing up?  Since 2017, the SEA Centre – Papua Explorers Foundation – has been restoring endangered coral reefs in Raja Ampat. But today, it seems to make sense more than ever.

Why are coral reefs so important?

Although they cover less than 0.1 percent of the earth’s surface, coral reefs are an essential ecosystem, providing food and shelter for 25% of marine species. It participates to the cycle of carbon and overall, to the good health of our oceans. But coral reefs also essential for humans’ survival, as they provide food, coastal protection, medicine or again important economic revenue. In fact, the annual earning of coral reefs worldwide for tourism and leisure activities is estimated at $9.6 billion.

However, fifty percent of coral reefs have disappeared worldwide, and ninety percent may disappear in the century to come. Global warming, climate change, acidification, pollution, destruction, overfishing… One-third of reef-building corals are now considered at risk of extinction.

What about coral reefs in Raja Ampat?

Every diver who has ever set fin into Raja Ampat will tell you about the extraordinary coral reefs of Raja Ampat. In fact, it hosts more than 600 species of corals, which represent 75% of the world’s known coral diversity. This unique ecosystem is home to 1638 species of reef fishes and provide essential habitat for many sharks, marine mammals, or again our beautiful manta rays.

hard coral reef in Raja Ampat

The beautiful diversity of Raja Ampat’s coral reefs.

Unfortunately, during the 90’s, some illegal fisheries including bombing damaged some shallow areas, creating “rubbles” (small pieces of dead corals), too instable for new corals to grow on. Today, those unsustainable fisheries have mostly stopped, but the development of human activities such as tourism is still threatening this precious ecosystem.

How does coral planting work?

Well, sometimes nature just need a little push! By creating a stable environment for coral to grow on and attaching pieces of corals, we create favorable conditions for a reef to grow and thrive! The nutrient rich waters of Raja Ampat do the rest.

coral gardener planting corals in Raja Ampat under water at Papua Explorers Resort

One of our local coral gardeners at work. Photo @DavidBenz

First, we install some iron or rock structures that will stabilize the rubble and provide habitat for corals and fishes. This is called structural restoration. Second, we collect pieces of broken corals and fix them on the structures. This is biological restoration. Third… just watch them grow! Here starts our monitoring programme.

Fun fact: the title photo at the beginning of this article shows our “turtle” structure 18 months after planting. Can you still see the iron structure?

Yaf Keru? What is that?

Yaf Keru means “Our coral garden” in Papuan language. Launched in 2017 by the SEA Centre – Papua Explorers Foundation, this programme aims to restore the endangered reefs of Raja Ampat while building capacity and ownership within the local community.

Our first project was to develop our “reef lab” just in front of Papua Explorers resort. There, we experiment different restoration techniques, monitor the coral reef ecosystem, train our local coral gardeners, and bring our guests to learn about coral planting.

papuan locals snorkeling at a coral reef planting structure in Raja Ampat

Yaf Keru involves local communities in restoring their coral reefs.

A second coral planting project in Raja Ampat was developed in Sawandarek in 2018 with the support of the Blue Abadi Fund. Located in front of the Sawandarek village, this project allowed the training of local gardeners and the creation of one of the most famous safety stop of Raja Ampat! Today, this garden is maintained by the villagers and provide significant revenue for the village.

What are we doing during lockdown?

Just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 took us by surprise, and we had to say goodbye to our guests and teams to ensure everyone’s safety. A small team stayed onsite, more than ever committed to support the local communities and protect the amazing heritage of Raja Ampat.

two scuba divers fixing coral fragements on a structure, coral conservation during Raja Ampat lockdown

Our team restoring the reef, one coral at a time.

If we cannot for now go to other villages, we decided to give a new breath to our Reef lab in front of the resort. We are creating new structures, implementing new techniques and monitoring protocols, learning from our mistakes and from mother nature. We are also starting a coral nursery that will allow us to grow and transplant corals to another location in Raja Ampat. And because this lab also aims to be a learning and teaching platform, we are building an underwater “Reef trail” for our guests and trainees.

In one month of lockdown, we spent about 50 hours under the water and planted 500 corals! And this is just the beginning.

Can you help from home?

We are sure you can’t wait to be joining us for one of our coral planting dives in Raja Ampat, but patience!

For now, you can help us by adopting a coral or donating to the SEA Centre. While the resort is closed, the SEA Centre only relies on the generous donation of our international friends!

Help us restoring the reef, one coral at a time.

More information on our coral planting programme in Raja Ampat?

Contact Claire-Sophie Azam, our manager at SEA Centre – Papua Explorers Foundation

logo of our Papua Explorers Foundation in Raja Ampat

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