The Art of Crafting Coral Homes
Redang Island, one of the biggest islands in the Peninsular coast of Malaysia and home to the majestic sea turtles. Beyond the pristine turquoise waters, the velvety softness of white sand, and the majestic biodiversity of inhabitants, lies a coral nursery and artificial reef.
The infamous coral reefs are well-known for their diverse and productive ecosystem on Earth. From being a natural carbon sequester to protecting coastlines from erosion and storms, coral reefs are essential to the natural environment. Degradation of this important ecosystem will pose threats not just to the marine ecosystem but also to all natural surroundings. Over the years, it is quite known that around the world, these fragile ecosystems are facing threats from climate change, overfishing and pollution. As a pledge to preserve this precious marine life, many organisations have stepped up to implement coral planting and artificial reef monitoring.
Taken care by in-house marine biologists, the coral nursery and artificial reef at The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort in Redang Island have been operating for around 4 years. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to dive into the exciting ‘coral gardener’ role at this luxurious resort. As a marine biologist, the job has always been thrilling and full of adventures.
To reach the coral nursery and artificial reef, one must scuba dive to a depth of 9 to 11 metres. Situated around 200 metres from the beach area, my colleagues and I often swam halfway at the surface or rode a boat (though this only happened if we’re lucky on that day)! The coral nursery consisted of 20 tables made of steel, with each table comprising around 15 coral plates. Coral plates are round-shaped cement blocks that serve as a substrate for coral nubbins to grow on during the early stages of coral restoration.
The art of crafting new coral homes is delicate and attentive. Corals are very fragile creatures, and they could be easily fragmented even under the slightest pressure. Coral nubbins are taken from nearby natural reefs where they were fragmented due to natural or man-made causes and are found discarded on the ocean floor. These nubbins are given new life when they are brought to the coral nursery.
At the nursery, each nubbin is gently tied to its own coral plate with a cable tie. New coral nubbins are often measured at only six to eight centimetres at the early stage. Over time, these baby nubbins were monitored to ensure their health was in good condition. Corals are fragile and are easily affected by environmental stressors. Around two to four times a week, my fellow marine biologists and I would dive to the coral nursery to conduct regular coral restoration maintenance. This included securing or changing new cable ties, brushing algae off the coral plates, and picking up trash in the coral nursery area.
Once a week, we would measure the length and width of each coral nubbin to observe its growth over time. Since corals are sensitive to environmental stressors, coral bleaching is also a common phenomena among coral nubbins in coral nurseries. When we encounter a bleached nubbin (the colour often ranges from pale pink to white), the nubbin is replaced with a new healthy one.
It is easy to identify when a coral nubbin is healthy and self-sufficient to grow in a new habitat. Once the nubbin’s size reaches more than 10 centimetres of length and does not show signs of coral bleaching, the nubbin is removed from the coral plate and is transferred to its new home: the artificial reef. The artificial reef at The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort is situated only a few metres from the coral nursery, and is built on man-made structures and abandoned items such as treadmills, bicycles, and motorcycles. Over time, healthy corals from the coral nursery are brought here where they are tied to the structures using cable ties. The positioning of the new healthy corals needs to be strategized properly so that overcrowding would not occur. Once the new corals are transferred to their new home, they are left to grow in its natural ecosystem.
The coral nursery and artificial reef is an underwater playground for marine life of various species. Corals are natural habitats for marine fauna, from the tiniest of microscopic species to the majestic megafauna. As we worked around the nursery and the artificial reef, we were often accompanied by a plethora of marine fauna such as green sea turtles, hermit crabs, and triggerfish.
Coral planting and artificial reefs have become essential methods for restoring and conserving coral reefs. These initiatives serve as excellent examples of conservation efforts and simultaneously have the potential to raise awareness on coral reefs importance and encourage responsible ecotourism practices.
Charisma Movement 22/23. IG: @shotbyreens