What if you could get away on an amazing tropical vacation, and help preserve the environment at the same time?
Sure, you can visit many green hotels that conserve energy by asking guests to re-use towels and linens and perhaps employ water-saving measures. But at the Hideaway Fiji Resort along the coral coast, you can directly assist in efforts to preserve and enhance the world’s second largest continuous coral reef.
Yesterday, I took a coral reef walk and did some coral planting – a unique experience offered by the Hideaway Fiji resort.
For $10, a guide will take you to the edge of the coral reef, point out starfish, sea urchins, fish, clams and – of course – coral. After about 1/2 hour walking, you’ll reach the coral farm. Varieties of colorful, healthy coral are growing in steel baskets.
Your guide will help you select a number of corals from which he will carefully trim a small piece. Using an environmentally-safe epoxy glue, you will work to affix the coral trimmings to a nearby surface underwater. The glue vanishes within 24 hours, and the coral remains strongly affixed to its new location where it can grow and thrive.
You can even name your mini coral reef, if you choose!
But why is coral planting important?
Fiji is known as the “soft coral capital of the world,” and its fringe and barrier reefs are teeming with color, wildlife and a wide variety of hard and soft corals. People come to the Fiji Islands for many reasons, but at the top of the list is usually the world-class diving and snorkeling available.
Recreation aside, Fiji’s coral reefs provide habitat for fish and other sea life, as well as protection for coastlines and mitigation of erosion effects. Coral reefs in Fiji are at risk, just as other reefs worldwide are suffering. Bleaching occurs as a result of temperature changes and discharge into waters that increases algae growth, choking out the sunlight that the animals need to survive.
Consider this information about Fiji’s coral reefs, from National Geographic:
When water heats up, corals expel the symbiotic algae that provide nutrients and color, leaving the corals “bleached.” Some scientists theorize that bleaching evolved to help corals adjust to shifting temperature by swap-ping existing algae for others more heat-hardy. But as global temperatures rise, corals are reaching their upper limits of heat tolerance. In Fiji corals can survive in waters up to about 86°F. Beyond that, it’s like asking corals to shift into a gear they just don’t have.
Fiji’s reefs took a major hot-water hammering in 2000 and 2002, leading to widespread bleaching. As a marine biologist long interested in coral reefs, I joined a recent expedition to Fiji to see how its reefs were faring after the heat waves. We found vast differences from place to place. Stripped of algae, some corals had starved and died, leaving denuded limestone hulks. But in some spots where staghorn and other hard corals had bleached white, new life blossomed. We saw gardens of baby corals sprout ting over fields of bare rock, multicolored sea life mobbing newly lush pastures, and some reefs that had entirely escaped bleaching. Big fish swam all around us—sharks, groupers, mantas, all evidence of a system with a hard-beating heart.
Representatives at the Hideaway Fiji Resort also stated that their coral planting project has been successful. Certainly, the corals growing in the farm appear healthy and thriving. It remains to be seen if the newly planted coral will, over time, survive the impacts of water temperature changes, diseases and weather events.
Beyond efforts of the Hideaway Fiji Resort and its guests, the Fiji government, activists, private businesses, and organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF have partnered to protect Fiji’s endangered marine habitats on a long term basis. But we need the rest of the world’s help.
For information on the health of the Fiji coral reefs and other reefs around the world, see:
- Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network
- NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program
- Locally Managed Marine Area Network
- WWF Environmental and Conservation Work in the South Pacific