Beneath the crystal clear waters of Wailoa Lagoon lies the Civa Fiji Pearls pearl farm. Attached - by man - to a network of ropes are the oysters. Attaching itself naturally, and continuously, are new corals attempting to find a new home and flourish. The build up of coral has to be periodically removed from the lines to ensure best conditions for healthy oysters and premium pearl production.
Initially this cleaning process resulted in the removed coral simply falling to the floor of the lagoon, where it would likely die. A recent collaboration with neighbouring Makaira Resort now puts this previously wasted byproduct of the farm to work - rehabilitating the reefs of Taveuni.
Makaira's Roberta Davis gives us some background on her Coral Gardening project, and explains why this relatively simple technique could make a huge difference to the health and diversity of the local reefs.
How did you begin Coral Gardening ?
Well, in 2010 we had a powerful cyclone heading our way - Cyclone Tomas. We knew the reefs were going to get battered. I was telling our guests to make the most of the reef whilst they had the chance, after the storm it would be unrecognisable and take a long time to recover. And that's exactly what happened. A while later Scott Putnam suggested we try to rehabilitate the reef from a coral nursery - propagating new growth from small pieces of broken coral and then transplanting it into existing reef and rock once it reaches a certain size. We gave it a go and the results were encouraging, and then another storm in 2013 battered the reefs again. The latest initiative began in October 2014. We take the coral removed from Civa's pearl farm during their cleaning process and use it to seed our nursery. After some experimentation with different techniques the nursery is now starting to flourish.
Explain how the coral is grown in the nursery
We've tried different methods, and the one we have found simplest is to insert the coral pieces in between the strands of a rope. The rope is anchored to the sea floor by a concrete block, and a float raises it towards the surface. The coral is attached such that the nursery ceiling is about 2 meters below sea level. Creating our garden in this way reduces the number of maintenance dives that need to be done - the ropes can simply be hauled up, the coral cleaned, reattached and returned. The coral has to be periodically cleaned as there is a build up of algae over time. With naturally occurring coral on the sea floor this cleaning is generally done by reef fish, less so on the ropes so we need to lend a hand. With the number of ropes we have now it's a bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge - start at one end, reach the other and then start again !
Does Coral Gardening cost much time and money ?
Currently about 12 hours per week, but most of the start-up work is now done and the time will reduce - maybe 4 hours a week going forward. In terms of cost - very little. Just ropes, some concrete blocks and bottles or bouys for floats. The coral comes for free. After that it's just time spent in the garden. The simplicity and low cost means this type of project can easily be undertaken by coastal villages around Taveuni and throughout Fiji.
What is the beneft of Coral Gardening ?
Obviously re-establishment of the reef and the whole ecosystem surrounding it. Firstly its small fish that take shelter, the small fish attract larger fish, we even have octopus setting up home in the concrete block. There has been a significant increase in sea life around the project, this in turn feeds into the surrounding waters. Other parts of the bay look like a desert in comparison to the nursery area. With a thriving fish population and sustainable fishing villages can feed themselves forever - just take what is needed and no more. Another aspect is diving and tourism. Our waters are extremely popular and we should ensure that continues - tourism is a key part of the local economy. Small scale projects such as this could have a huge effect if practised more widely.
Is anyone else Coral Gardening on Taveuni ?
Not that I'm aware of, I would like to hear if anyone is. There are other projects going on around Fiji, but they seem more complicated and higher cost compared to ours - cages anchored to sea floor which require more dives and maintenance. We're keeping it simple, and it's working. On the ropes the coral is a lot safer too - Crown of Thorns have a hard time getting to it !
Do any of your guests get involved ?
Yes, some. Most have a tight schedule but we have a few who have helped cleaning the ropes and coral. It's an interesting thing to talk about and hopefully people go home with a better understanding.
What's next ?
We're planning another area around the reef drop-off, deeper lines, experimenting with different species, including the soft coral species. We are coming up for our first year now and there will be an increase in "planting" - taking our babies off the ropes and giving them a new home. And also there's just getting the project out there - making people aware and showing how easy it can be and encourage more projects like this around Taveuni. Every coastal village should do it !
Thankyou Roberta !!
We will have regular updates from the coral gardening project at Makaira in future blog posts, and we'd love to hear from anyone doing similar projects - just use the comments section at the bottom of the page to send us your thoughts.