The last 50 years of blast fishing has torn apart what was once a thriving and robust coral reef here on Pom Pom Island.
The coral that once provided a living space for smaller marine animals, as well as, a place to hide from larger predators was diminished down to a mere fraction of what it once was. With nowhere to live and hide, these marine animals were forced to leave Pom Pom and look for a new habitat elsewhere.
Once they were gone, the larger fish had no source of food, so they too had to look for a new place to call home.
This unfortunate chain of events is happening all over the world. Our reefs are dying from years of human destruction.
Now it’s up to us to right our wrongs of the past.
So How Do We Fix the Problem?
Rebuilding the coral reef around Pom Pom Island is one the top priorities here at TRACC (Tropical Research and Conservation Center).
I personally don’t know what the reef looked like before TRACC got here, but I’ve talked a lot with the staff who have been here for a few years, and they all comment on how much things have changed.
They told me when TRACC first started working here about 3 years ago, there was pretty much nothing. The sea floor was a barren wasteland, and there were only a few species of fish that had remained in the area.
Now that TRACC has been working to rebuild the reef, there are more species of fish moving back in to the reef!
One of the ways TRACC is rebuilding the reef is by transplanting soft coral to the areas that need the most help.
Before coming here, I had no idea that coral could be transplanted. I, like many other people I know, thought once coral was dead, it was gone forever.
Now having been at TRACC for a couple weeks, I know differently.
The coral can be rebuilt!
It just takes time and a little bit of trial and error.
Why Soft Coral?
Moving soft coral is one of the most effective ways to start rebuilding a reef.
It grows a lot like ground cover for a garden.
Soft coral can grow quite fast, and it branches out to other sections creating a nice blanket of vegetation. This blanket then helps to stop landslides of dead coral rubble that have been inhibiting hard coral growth.
The reason we aren’t transplanting hard coral is because it grows at a much slower rate and needs a much more stable surface to mature.
Another reason soft coral is ideal to start rebuilding a reef is that it has a high survival rate. Even as we were moving the coral, I could see how it was protecting itself.
It was pretty incredible!
How Does One Transplant Soft Coral?
The whole process started with laying a net in the areas that need the most help.
The coral will attach to the net as it is growing, and it also helps stop the dead coral from sliding down the slope.
Once the net was laid out, we secured the edges with metal stakes and flattened out any loose areas with heavy dead coral fragments.
Of course we couldn’t leave parts of the nets loose where turtles or fish could become tangled.
After the nets were secured, we began gathering soft coral fragments from a healthier area of the reef. Since soft coral grows so fast and spreads outwards from the center, we were able to take the fragments from the outer edges without doing harm to the reef itself.
We spent about an hour gathering up the coral fragments before loading them onto the boat and dumping them near the netting.
The next day we began planting them on the net.
We each took a package of zip ties so we could secure the fragments to the net with space in-between.
Now there is a nice start of cover over the netting. Hopefully the net will be completely covered in the next few months, but only time will tell.
We had to do the planting in 2 shifts during the day, and I could already see a big difference from the morning shift to the afternoon. There were barely any fish swimming around us during the morning shift, but by the time we came back to the site in the afternoon, dozens of smaller fish had started to swim around the netting. Possibly looking for a place to live.
It definitely was a great feeling to see the positive impact in such a short amount of time.
I can’t wait to see how much the coral will progress over these next 4 weeks. I will definitely keep you posted!
Have you spent some time snorkeling or diving around a coral reef? Where was it? What was your experience like?