We're nursing broken coral fragments back to health with the installation of a coral nursery table off the coast of Dibba!
Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems on planet earth; despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor they are home to over 25% of marine species. Not only are they a beautiful biodiverse spectacle but they also provide key roles with regards to coastal protection and supporting fisheries throughout the tropical coastal regions across the world.
Coral as an organism is an ecosystem architect. Within the normally nutrient-deficient tropical coastal waters where plant life is minimal, they have a unique relationship with a marine plant (algae) that lives within the animal coral organism. During the day these plants photosynthesize providing the coral animal with oxygen and sugars and at night, the coral provides the algae with the nutrients it lacks in the form of waste. As the coral grows, it deposits a calcium carbonate skeleton which grows in very complex forms in order to increase its surface area and therefore productivity and increased habitat. Corals are however under threat from climate change and pollution, with the world's coral reef ecosystems, predicted to become extinct by 2050. This is why we, as a global population that is heavily reliant on resources from the sea, must act now to protect these fragile ecosystems for the following generations.
Great expanses of coastal waters have the perfect conditions for coral growth, however, there is no solid substrate for the coral to grow on, only sand, like an underwater desert, barren of life. Marine resource management strategies such as coral propagation and artificial reefs are very effective conservation techniques, in the same way as planting seedlings to eventually form a forest would be on land.
Coral propagation is the equivalent of a greenhouse, a protected area where we can garden and provide the correct conditions for coral to grow. Many different strategies are used worldwide; however, a platform raised securely on the seafloor in the right conditions is the most effective long term.
The table we sank in partnership with Freestyle Divers and Azraq incorporates cleaned oyster shells from our Dibba Bay farm, to provide weight to secure the table rather than concrete. The presence of the oyster shells is a natural solution to this underwater stability challenge, and it also creates a complex structure perfect for small marine life to reside. This is great news for the propagation tables as small fish will remove any unwanted pests or algal growth from the coral on the tables, further promoting the health of the corals. The oyster shells are naturally made of calcium carbonate, the same mineral as the skeleton of the corals themselves, thus potentially even acting almost as a sacrificial anode to mitigate the impact of ocean acidification and further protect the corals.
Once the coral has grown sufficiently, which varies on the species, we can use the coral to repopulate degraded areas of the natural reef or we can use it to populate newly created artificial reefs. Dibba Bay’s contribution to the artificial reef project helps to create underwater cities, rising out of the previously barren sands, using natural shells as the ‘bricks and mortar’ for the construction rather than concrete. Farming oysters in the same area as the coral project also reinforces the positive impact of the artificial reefs by removing excess nutrients from the water. Fewer algal blooms and algal growth on the natural reefs means that the corals are less stressed. A less stressed coral is more resilient to rising sea surface temperatures, helping to prevent coral bleaching. Innovative collaborations furthering marine resources management strategies such as this, contribute towards localized marine conservation initiatives. Collaboratively, this kind of local initiative contributes to global initiatives to save the coral reefs and the world's oceans.
For more information on the coral conservation project, or to find out how you can support it as a corporate or as an individual contributor, please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by James Campbell, Head of Conservation at Freestyle Divers.