Luxury Resorts in Maldives Are Supporting Coral Reef Plantation Programmes

Coral reefs around the world are under severe threat, says UNEP
Coral tree plantation in progress at Ozen Life Maadhoo
Coral tree plantation in progress at Ozen Life Maadhoo

A little over a year ago, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) sounded alarm over the state of the coral reefs around the world. "Every one of the world&rsquos coral reefs could bleach by the end of the century, unless there are drastic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions," the international body said in a release.

Coral reefs are not only incredibly beautiful but also an important part of biodiversity.  According to UNEP, coral reefs sustain a wide variety of marine life, protect coastlines from erosion from waves and storms, sink carbon and nitrogen and help recycle nutrients. "Their loss would have devastating consequences not only for marine life, but also for over a billion people globally who benefit directly or indirectly from them," the release said.

According to scientists, corals expel the microscopic algae living in their tissues if the temperature of the water rises. This is called bleaching. If the condition improves with the return of ambient temperature, the bleached corals may survive by recovering their algae. But if the bleaching persists, the corals die. The last global bleaching is said to have started in 2014 and extended well into 2017, across reefs found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Scientists said this was the longest, most pervasive and destructive coral bleaching incident ever recorded.

Apart from &lsquobleaching&rsquo, coral reefs around popular tourist destinations are also faced with problems such as coastal development, destructive fishing methods, and pollution from domestic and industrial sewage.

While it is important to resolve the problems affecting the coral reefs, it is also necessary to ensure their growth, according to scientists. While a group of scientists are working at &lsquocrypto-preservation&rsquo (the use of very low temperatures to preserve living cells and tissues), others are encouraging restoration through planting.

One of the popular tourist destinations in the Indian Ocean, Maldives, is said to have one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. However, two massive bleaching in 1998 and 2016, owing to climate change, coupled with other pressures, put the survival of the coral reefs at risk. Thankfully, many of the luxury resorts located in the various atolls are taking an active part in the restoration drives, by funding regeneration activities or directly helping in the activity.  

Ozen Life Maadhoo, located in South Malé Atoll, recently organised a coral planting activity where their guests got a hands-on opportunity to contribute to the restoration of the reefs. The &lsquocoral tree plantation&rsquo was headed by resident marine biologist Oshin Joanna Christopher.

For the restoration project, the team collected &lsquocorals of opportunity.&rsquo Loose coral fragments turned over by big fish often drift onto the beach or to spots where they cannot grow any longer. These fragments are rescued and used for coral regeneration. Typically, they belong to Acropora, Porites and Pocillopora species &ndash which are resistant to warming ocean temperatures.

Participants attached coral pieces to a metal tree frame built from recycled material. After which, the diving team submerged the tree at the coral nursery behind the resort&rsquos six-metre underwater restaurant.

The team selected suitable spots in the lagoon where corals can thrive. Said Oshin, &ldquoOur nurseries have &lsquosuper corals&rsquo and &lsquoreef-building corals&rsquo that have withstood the bleaching events of 2016 naturally. We are using their resilient genetics to grow more resilient corals. Soon, we will add a concrete block reef near the spa beach to create a refuge for local fish species. Eventually, the fish will accept these blocks to be a part of the reefs.&rdquo

Henar Gil Rios, General Manager, Ozen Life Maadhoo, said &ldquoWe are deeply committed to the coral restoration program. It is not just the marine conservation efforts. We also incorporate sustainable practices into all operations, ranging from procurement to solar energy. Ozen Life Maadhoo is also certified by Green Globe, an international standard for sustainable tourism.&rdquo

Music and festivities added to the lively atmosphere. All participants received a special certificate to mark the event.

Hospitality brand Ozen Life Collections operates two resorts in Maldives&mdashthe Ozen Life Maadhoo, which opened in July 2016, and the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi, which was launched in December 2020.

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