Corals in the Seychelles and the region were destroyed by bleaching caused by warming oceans. The most severe bleaching occurred in 1998. Many reefs around Cousin Island Special Reserve simply collapsed into rubble which became covered by algae. Years later they show little sign of natural recovery. In 2010, Nature Seychelles launched the Reef Rescuers project. Financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development – USAID, the project is the first ever large-scale active reef restoration project in the region (See Building Coral Reefs of the Future on our website). Using a method called “reef gardening” healthy corals from donor sites are raised in underwater nurseries to required size and then ‘planted’ in degraded sites. A team of 6-7 divers perform daily underwater tasks to do this. They include volunteer scientific divers such as Joseph Marlow. Below is his account of life as a reef rescuer.
For any young marine biologist, volunteer work is a fundamental component of the first rung of our career ladder. We all do it, some of us monitor turtle nesting sites, some of us tag whale sharks, me? I am a coral nanny and my particular choice of volunteer opportunity allows me to work every day on the world’s biggest and most ambitious coral nursery project.
I have worked on a few volunteer projects in my time and count myself as an experienced diver, but this project offered the chance to experience something entirely new; both in terms of marine science and diving. With so much of world’s reefs in a degraded state and the decline looking set to continue, I was curious about the potential for projects such as these to reverse the decline. The diving here is also a fairly novel experience; our normal dive kit is supplemented by a range of tools normally found on a building site and it’s not unusual to see a diver striding across the sand with a sledgehammer across their shoulder.
Life as a coral nanny isn’t easy; we dive five days a week, work starts early in the morning and the work is hard. Just like their human counterparts, corals left in a nursery unattended for too long tend to create havoc and the first dive of the day is often spent repairing whatever has been broken in the night. Our second dive of the day could entail anything from nursery coral health monitoring, nursery construction to the exciting work of actually transplanting our mature corals to their new home, the degraded site we hope to transform into a healthy reef.
By mid-afternoon, our work is done, our tanks are empty and we return to our base on Praslin Island exhausted. At base we quickly store away our kit, enter any data we need to into the project computer and then the rest of day is ours. What do you do with a free afternoon in the Seychelles? Anything you want; hang out on the beach a few strides away from the base, head into town to catch a film at the cinema or just relax at base with a beer and a book. However, the real fun starts on the weekend; Praslin Island is a fantastic island to explore and with staggeringly beautiful beaches, a UNESCO world heritage site and world class dives sites on your doorstep, you’ll never run out of things to do.
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