Building resilient reefs in Fulhadhoo: hope for reefs and island communities

Maldives Coral Institute (MCI) is mobilizing local stakeholders and island community in coral restoration project in Goidhoo Atoll, Fulhadhoo.

Phase 2 of Fulhadhoo Coral Restoration Project by MCI and Mars Incorporated was launched on 28th August. It is one of the largest coral restoration projects in the country, and of the few based at a local island.

The coral restoration project is an initiative by MCI, which began as a pilot project in August 2021 to test the effectiveness and scalability of the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS). MARRS works with local communities to create hexagonal steel structures called ‘Reef Stars’ to attach locally sourced coral fragments. The reef stars are anchored together across dead coral rubble in a web-like structure, which provides extra stability and resistance to wave energy. The project aims to get the reef stars completely covered by new corals, in order to restore healthy coral reef ecosystems in places affected by damage to the reefs.

After over a year of monitoring the coral frames, Phase 2 is being launched in Fulhadhoo with the local council, school, and community. Additionally, Save the Beach Maldives (STBM) and Maldives National University(MNU) also partnered upto assist the project. Additional support is provided by Slowtape, the official recording partner for the project, and Kamadhoo dive and Fehurihi dive centres.

By the end of phase 2 of the project, 200-300 new Reef Stars will be installed in Fulhadhoo reef.

Local community and stakeholders unite for restoration

The coral restoration project is being conducted with assistance from MNU’s faculty of science students.

Initial preparation of the project started with fish and benthic surveys in Fulhadhoo lagoon with partners. The goal of the surveys is to have a baseline to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of coral restoration.  Training is also conducted to prepare students to assist the technical expertise in the field and gain practical field work experience.

Corals of opportunity – which are fragments of coral that have already broken off from parent colony from wave action, natural threats or human activities – are collected by to be replanted in the new Reef stars. The team then works on fixing the coral fragments onto the coral frames with as little disturbance as possible, after which the reef stars are installed underwater.

 

The team had trainings with Mars Incorporated earlier in the year, and also has technical expertise on hand in Fulhadhoo as the project is ongoing.

“All around the world, including in Maldives, reefs are under great threat. To be able to give the corals a chance to survive and not to lose our biodiversity, along with protection and conservation, active conservation is now necessary.” Aya Naseem, co-founder of MCI, said in an introductory video to the project on instagram.

“Maldives is also an important part of the world, with corals important to the local people but also to the globe.” Mars Incorporated’s Noel Janetski added.

The story of resilience: reefs bounce back from anthropogenic threats and warming

Monitoring of phase 1’s relocated corals was done by Iufa Rasheed, based at Fulhadhoo. In April, Iufa recorded changes to the coral fragments in response to warming sea temperatures. The Fulhadhoo coral restoration project was affected, with coral fragments becoming pale and fluoresced – an indication of stress in corals.

However, the coral fragments have since recovered, MCI reported in a instagram post that the “corals are growing well and looking healthy. We are delighted to see more fish and other creatures have taken up residence in and among the corals and reef stars.”

Speaking with MBR, Aya highlighted the importance of taking care of the reefs. “It is important that we all learn how to take care of our reefs and our islands. Dhivehi have lived in these islands for thousands of years, and have traditionally been stewards of our islands and reefs and fish stock. With development, rapid changes in lifestyle and building techniques, our role in nature has changed a lot in the last few decades.”

Aya added that it’s not just anthropogenic threats that harm corals.

“Then there is of course climate change, something completely beyond our capacity as Maldivians, posing a serious threat to our corals which are the very foundation of all our islands. Because of all these changes, we need to relearn and find new ways of how to restore nature and look after our natural ecosystem in this changing world.”

Hope for the future

Despite the challenges that their reefs face, local islands can be active agents in restoration.

“Every island has a unique coral reef that protects it. In Fulhadhoo, we work with the Island Council and the people of the island who understand what’s at stake if they lose their reef. Through this project with Mars Global, Fulhadhoo community gain experience working to protect their coral using MARRS technique that has been developed over the last decade.”  Aya said.

The involvement of community is one of the indicators to making the project sustainable long-term, and in turn help the communities. Aya noted this in a post shared on social media, “This restoration program provides hope for the future of our coral reefs and the island communities that depend on them.”

MCI has also completed the Fulhadhoo coral relocation project in March 2020 response to MTCC building a harbour in the island which could potentially damage the reef. Over 5000 fragments of corals was removed from the impact zone and replanted for restoration in the first phase of the project in collaboration with Save the Beach Maldives (STBM) and the local community.

Photo credit: Maldives Coral Institute, SlowTapeMv

Share this post:

Comments

  1. Pingback: MCI launches Coral Custodians program and #FarakeeZinmaa initiative | MBR