Coral Reef Restoration Project
For Scotty's Action Sports Network, our coral reef restoration project is about much more than conservation, as vital as that is. As Scott himself put it, we are proud to be "teaching everyone to save the world".
Also, unlike other reef restoration projects around the globe, no plastic is being added to our ocean as a result of our innovative coral planting method. Scott will soon publish the details of this method to encourage its adoption by others.
This project is not only personally important to Scott, but to many other stakeholders. The marine sanctuary brings great pride to the Shangri-la resort, group of companies, and resident marine biologist, Lourdes Mae Jimenez.
Our dive club members have been diving with Ms. Jimenez for the past two months, and will continue to work with her on this reef restoration project every Saturday for the remainder of 2018. The project is also important to the young children who are helping to plant three new coral reefs this week!
Over the weekend of February 10-11, Scotty's Dive Club members collected the live corals (broken by bad diving practices) that our young assistants are helping to plant.
Ted Mockrish, PhD, is a dive club member and the K-12 Principal of Cebu International School (CIS). He wanted to get his students involved, and everyone now agrees that working with the children is the highlight! Previous dives by our club members established the underwater areas where we are planting these new reefs.
How are the CIS students helping to restore the coral reefs?
The Cebu International School (CIS) students are arriving at our headquarters in the morning and listening to Ms. Jimenez speak for about an hour.
She show the students about corals, our oceans, reef restoration, and this specific project. She is showing the children colorful images and using her hand to demonstrate the size of a coral polyp.
Using safety gloves, the kids are then spending an hour helping to make the metal nets and tie wires that will hold the coral fragments in place.
After the students finished preparing all the materials, our staff loaded everything and everyone onto a bangka boat. The captain steered the boat above the area where the coral reef would be built to allow the children to go snorkeling a short distance and watch the divers plant the corals.
Just before lunch, the kids take turns snorkeling over the site where they will watch the divers plant the corals in the afternoon. Immediately after returning to the boat for lunch, students start asking when they can go back into the water!
After eating on the boat, small groups of students snorkel above as the divers "plant" each coral. For each and every diver, looking up at the children silhouetted on the ocean surface by sunlight is thrilling!
What is the most exciting part?
The most exciting part of this phase of the coral reef restoration project is on the boat, listening to the children plead to get into the ocean! They are excited during the briefings and while working with the corals, but they really want to get in on the subsurface action!
For safety, though, the students have to swim in small groups. We have to ensure a small supervisor-to-child ratio, especially in open water. Plus, additional personnel have to stay on the boat with the remaining students. Safety always comes first!
It's very rewarding when children are excited to learn!
Why is Cebu International School involved?
Cebu International School (CIS) has been committed to service work since 2012. Typhoon Yolanda brought CIS together with other communities to support those in need.
As part of its core values, CIS believes that learning includes contributing to the world through service, as well as being sustainable environmental stewards. With its proximity to the sea, plus its number of ocean-loving staff members, CIS believes that this coral rehabilitation project with Scotty’s and Shangri-la was a perfect match.
Since the beginning of 2018, Ms. Jimenez and Scotty's Dive Club members have been using the natural materials of the ocean to promote areas for tropical coral growth. Several beds made of “live rock” and dead corals have been made at varying depths so that broken corals can be attached and rehabilitated in the sanctuary.
As a test, we hope that this project will be replicable in other habitats that have been destroyed due to human-made and natural issues.
For three days, the Grade 3-11 students from the school are participating in this test and are coming to Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary, learning about coral species, and helping “plant” corals on these natural bed formations. The students are taking direct action in supporting marine life and in helping maintain and develop a very fragile ecosystem.
The students are learning that coral polyps are the architects of the sea. Although they cover a tiny percentage of the ocean, corals hold more than 25% of marine life and are important breeding grounds for many fish and animals of the sea.
"We all hope that this is the start of a great relationship that bridges industry, progress, and education to develop sustainable and practical solutions to the problems we face with growing populations, climate change, and encroachment into previously undisturbed territory," according to K-12 Principal Dr. Theodore Mockrish, "at the very least, we hope to raise awareness that it is never too late to make positive change in the world."
Where to see our new coral reefs?
If you would like to see our new coral reefs, the most shallow one is a short swim from our Sea Walker helmet diving boat. In just a few months, you will be able to dive along the ocean floor to a point where you can view the thriving new coral reef!
Who is marine biologist Lourdes Mae Jimenez?
Marine biologist Lourdes Mae Jimenez works on Shangri-La's Reef Care program in the company's Corporate Social Responsibility division. The project falls under the Environment initiative under the company's Sustainability brand.
Her job includes educating locals about the ocean environment, including motivating her colleagues and visiting schools throughout Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu on Mactan Island.
Ms. Jimenez's work on Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary also falls under Shangri-La's Care for Nature project, which includes 19 sanctuaries globally. The project's goals are conserving biodiversity and protecting habitats.
She works with Scotty's Action Sports Network and our Dive Club on clean-up dives and coral recovery projects, like the current one.
As a marine biologist, Ms. Jimenez has taught Scotty's veterans how to identify the ocean's smallest animals. The Philippines is unusually rich in species biodiversity, especially at the Danajon Bank double barrier reef, so even experienced underwater explorers sometimes need help identifying something. She also advises us on other underwater issues.
What is a marine biologist?
A marine biologist studies aquatic life, including the corals and coral reefs. The subjects may live in any sea habitats, at any depths, and be any sizes. The studies include interactions between organisms, such as between corals and algae, and between organisms and their environments. The earliest practitioner was Aristotle (384–322 BC).
Charles Darwin proposed the first theories on coral reef formation. The species biodiversity in and around coral reefs greatly exceeded expectations based on what was believed about the environment at the time. ---- Future technology would allow better underwater examination techniques, thus improving understanding of corals. Today, many sub-fields and specializations exist to study different aspects of the vast ocean ecosystems.
Why are we restoring the coral reefs at Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary?
Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary is a coastal habitat along the Mactan Island shoreline. Although only 7% of all ocean area is continental shelf, most aquatic life resides within these regions. This particular zone is a short swim from our headquarters in Punta Engano, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.
The six-hectare protected area was established in 2007 to protect the 160+ fish species, clam, and hundreds of coral species. Since then, reef restoration projects have included sinking two ships to become artificial reefs.
The Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary is one of our commitments to the environment and the ocean. Scotty's Action Sports Network partners with the resort and the Amores Foundation to preserve it at all times, not just during this restoration project. ---- Our staff keeps the underwater habitat free from plastic, other pollution, and harmful aquatic species. The CIS students are learning that preserving the environment is a lifestyle choice, not just a one-time project.
What is a coral?
A coral is neither a plant nor a mineral, though corals are often confused as both. Instead of even being a singular organism, a coral is a colony of genetically-identical, invertebrate polyps. These polyps build the calcium carbonate skeletons that form the foundations of tropical reef systems. More importantly, these systems provide critical habitats for other marine life.
The CIS students are learning that symbiosis with photosynthetic algae is the primary nutrient source. The symbiotes' needs for sunlight requires corals to be in clear, shallow water. Algae add brown color to the otherwise white skeletons. However, host pigments provide the vibrant colors that reefs are best known for.
What do the symbiotic algae do?
Algae are our planet's most abundant primary producers. Several different categories and sizes exist. The microscopic species alone outproduce all of Earth's forests.
Algal photosynthesis feeds the corals, providing energy for the calcification process that builds the tropical coral reef systems. The organisms, which may be as much as 30% of a coral polyp's mass, also assist waste removal.
Corals, in exchange, provide security for the algae. The exoskeleton that protects the polyps also protects each polyp's symbiote. The CIS students are learning that transplanting pieces of exoskeleton gives live polyps and their symbiotes ready-to-move-in homes.
What is a coral reef?
A coral reef is a fish nursery. The youngest sea animals hide out among the corals for protection from predators. Reefs, therefore, give these younglings a chance to survive.
Coral reefs are rare, occupying only 1% of the world's oceans. Despite this, a whopping 25% of marine species call a reef home, earning tropical reefs the nickname, "rainforests of the sea." The biodiversity is truly extraordinary, explaining why so many people spend so much time underwater exploring and photographing corals.
The loss of any reef is a threat to every species that resides there. When a habitat is destroyed, all resident life is forced to find food and shelter elsewhere. The CIS students are learning how they are helping to create new habitats for diverse sizes and shapes of marine animals.
Why do we need to restore Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary?
Reef restoration projects around the world are necessary, in part, due to human activity. Corals are fragile, and get easily destroyed through physical contact. Even if the contact is accidental, such as through not paying to attention to what one's swim fins are kicking, the damage can be severe. ---- In shallow waters, boats can be destructive. Furthermore, overfishing is a problem; having too much algae is as much a problem as having too little, thus fish are needed to control algal growth.
Another threat to all coral reefs, not just Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary, is climate change. Small increases in water temperature can have catastrophic effects on fragile tropical reefs. Although symbiosis with algae is beneficial, it is also stressful. ---- The CIS students are learning that adding heat stress can be overwhelming, causing the corals to eject their symbiotes. The effect of ejection is known as "bleaching," because the only visible color is the white of the exoskeletons. If the environment is not quickly restored, entire reefs may die and turn brown.
Furthermore, pollution is very harmful. Increases in acidity can cause the same bleaching effects as increases in heat. Moreover, the seafloor accumulates deposits of plastics, metals, fabrics, chemicals, and other unnatural debris. The plastics will never degrade. What's worse, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles until it is consumed by marine life, thus entering our food chain. ---- Plastic consumption is bad for corals, algae, and every other organism dependent on coral reef ecosystems, including humans. The problem is so bad that the documentary "Plastic Ocean" was originally supposed to be about whales, but it evolved into a documentary about trash.
It is important to note that Shangri-la Marine Sanctuary is in good condition due to the efforts of Scotty's Dive Club. We regularly remove pollutants, monitor invasive species, and take proactive measures, such as this restoration project. We also help to protect our House Reef from coral mining, overfishing, blast fishing, and other threats.
Why do we work to restore the corals?
Coral reefs are the foundation of our marine food chain. Humans eat the big fish that eat the little fish that are nourished and protected by corals. If that is not enough, coral reef systems also provide most of the air that we breathe! The CIS students are learning that tropical coral reefs are involved in climate regulation and new land formation, and are the sources of many medicines.
Besides the fact that our lives depend on reef systems, corals also have tremendous economic value. Many people around the world base their livelihoods on the recreation, tourism (and ecotourism), construction (materials), jewelry, and aquaria hobbyist industries. Reefs are also involved in protecting and preserving shorelines.
It is important to note that we are building resilient reef systems. Cultivating corals which have already survived environmental stresses results in new colonies which are already able to survive similar stresses.
How do corals return from the dead?
Corals sometimes seem to return from the dead because they are not, in fact, completely dead. ---- Hawaii-based researcher David Krupp coined the phrase “The Phoenix Effect” in 1992 to describe how corals can sometimes regrow from fragments so small that we don't even notice them within the exoskeleton fragments. In fact, the coral polyps may have survived because of how their deep placement sheltered them from environmental stresses such as heat and light.
Surviving coral polyps also have an advantage to regrow quickly. These resilient polyps do not need to expend energy to build a new exoskeleton, known as a "framework," because they can spread into the existing one for free. One of the reasons restoration projects transplant exoskeleton fragments is so that the transplanted tropical corals can similarly grow into them with low energy costs.
The impact should be almost immediate. As soon as a coral-friendly environment exists, small fish begin searching for prospective new habitats. Over time, predators move into the area, looking for the smaller fish.
How do coral reefs grow so quickly?
Coral fragments can grow quickly. Like human and other animal babies, small coral fragments grow more rapidly than mature, adult colonies. Also, colonies branch outward, spreading in every direction. Soft corals spread out and create environments suitable for hard corals, expanding the growth of the tropical reef system. The CIS students are helping transplant soft specimens.
Also, the species can adapt over time to climate change and other threats. The algae evolve, too. In fact, the symbiotic relationships may change to involve different species.
Furthermore, any colony can expand through sexual reproduction. One reef in one location may, over time, spread over a much larger area.
How can we help the corals grow even faster?
Coral reefs grow naturally on white limestone, which is mostly crystallized calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
Keeping the science simple, calcium carbonate molecules naturally form in seawater. Those molecules then adhere to the metal net that the CIS students made and deployed.
The net will, over time, become coated in limestone. As corals' preferred habitat, the coated net will aid the growth of healthy tropical corals.
What does the future hold for coral reefs?
Corals evolve, slowly adapting to the warmer ocean temperatures and increased acidity. The species and individual organisms that survive environmental stresses have increased resilience to bleaching. Scientists are currently studying while some individuals live, but many don't.
Scientists are also considering using genetic manipulation to increase resilience. Environmental changes might be too fast for natural evolution, so evolution may have to be accelerated in laboratories.
Because the strong corals survive and the others do not, species biodiversity is at risk. Diversity may have to be recreated in laboratories through crossbreeding. Another solution might be pairing the less resilient coral polyps with more resilient algae.
Despite all these efforts, avoiding bleaching events is the key to the long-term survival of tropical coral reefs.
What does the future hold for reef restoration projects?
The future of tropical coral reef restoration may be Biorocks. Biorocks are electrically-charged, metal artificial coral reefs.
The science is straightforward. As with our coral reef restoration project, calcium carbonate forms from ions in the seawater and then adheres to the metal. A low voltage current, which is safe for both humans and aquatic life, accelerates the limestone formation through electrolysis. The transplanted corals can be thriving in mere months.
The challenge, at this time, is providing the electric current. Existing projects are experimenting with using the ocean's waves (turning a turbine like a windmill) and solar power.
The corals on Biorocks grow and recover at greatly accelerated rates. Enhanced resilience to environmental stresses also reduces the need for the corals to recover as often.
And, that's not all. The electric current attracts diverse marine animals, which enjoy protection from sunlight, ocean waves, and more. Clams and oysters also experience accelerated growth. Over time, the structure begins to closely resemble a natural reef, acting as a barrier to incoming waves and reversing erosion at nearby beaches. ---- With metal-reinforcement and large openings for water to pass through, existing implementations have proven durable during natural disasters. As these structures age, they seem to attract more and more biodiversity, and in higher and higher densities.
In the absence of practical electrical power, we have determined Scott's innovative method to be the most effective. We look forward to sharing the details!