Intact Reef Ecosystems

Photo by Craig Holmes

The Threat: Habitat Destruction

The coral reefs we see today are hundreds – sometimes thousands – of years in the making. Like trees, coral reefs are living structures that can take years to regenerate once destroyed. Since most corals species grow less than an inch per year, reef destruction can have long-lasting consequences. Unfortunately, many human activities directly damage or destroy coral reefs and associated habitats including mangroves and lagoons. Coral mining, a process by which chunks of coral reefs are extracted for use as bricks or other construction material, caused extraordinary damage in some regions of the world. Particularly beautiful coral species, like black and red coral (used to make jewelry) and branching corals (popular as souvenirs or beachy home decor) that are heavily harvested have experienced population declines. Blast fishing and cyanide fishing use dynamite and poison respectively to stun and trap fish. Bottom trawling, a fishing method that drags a weighted net along the sea floor, destroys virtually everything in its wake during a single fishing event. Boat anchors are often dropped directly onto reefs, causing significant damage. Even divers and snorkelers can cause damage by trampling reefs and wearing sunscreen. All of these human activities harm corals, fish and other reef life, and degrade the reef habitat itself.

Our Solution: Intact Reef Ecosystems

CORAL and partners utilize the following conservation strategies and actions to conserve and restore coral reef habitats:

  1. Conduct scientific research to identify which restoration techniques and methodologies are the most successful at rebuilding damaged reefs.
  2. Partner with the tourism industry and dive community to raise awareness and reduce the adverse effects of unsustainable activities like overcrowding and reef trampling.
  3. Install mooring buoys that eliminate the need for boat anchors.
  4. Establish management plans for protected areas, such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs), that include habitat protections such as prohibiting destructive fishing practices or reducing anchor damage to reefs.
  5. Increase compliance with laws and regulations that protect reef habitat by conducting law enforcement patrols, clarifying governance and building awareness among community members.
  6. Strengthen coastal communities’ capacity to generate income from tourism in a way that protects coral reefs and supports local livelihoods.
  7. Increase stewardship for coral reefs through education and awareness building with community members about coral reef ecosystems and the threats facing them.
Intact Reef Ecosystems Fiji

Thanks to efforts by CORAL and our partners to install moorings, the Namena Marine Reserve is Fiji’s first anchor-free MPA. Through collaboration with the Kubulau community and other stakeholders, we have helped develop a volunteer user fee system, whereby scuba divers pay a small fee to visit Namena. These funds enable the Kubulau community to conduct patrols to enforce laws and regulations that protect reef habitat.

Intact Reef Ecosystems Indonesia

In Indonesia, we work with partners to implement management plans for the LMMA network in northern Bali. LMMA management plans frequently include measures to restore reefs damaged by past actions, including coral mining and cyanide fishing, and prevent further degradation of existing reefs from tourism and boat anchors. In 2017, we launched a project to compare a variety of commonly used coral restoration methods in order to develop a set of field-tested best practice guidelines.

Intact Reef Ecosystems Honduras

We support our partner Roatán Marine Park (RMP) in ensuring sustainability of Roatán’s MPAs. We educate tourists to adopt more sustainable practices and have helped install mooring buoys in the Sandy Bay West End MPA. We work with the Honduran government to ensure the effective management of MPAs in our core sites of Roatán, Utila and Tela Bay, including conducting patrols that are vital to prevent illegal activities.