23 Feb 2017 - Last April, Caterina Fattori stood on a beach in the Maldives feeling frustrated. The coral reef was bleaching, turning into a ghost reef with pale, stressed corals, and she couldn’t do a thing about it except stand there, watch, and suffer along with the reef.
Ms. Fattori is the resident marine biologist at Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort. She’s heading the resort’s collaboration with a local dive team and the German Museum of Oceanography and Fisheries in an initiative called Outrigger Ozone, a program designed to rebuild and regrow damaged coral reefs off the property’s tiny island. April’s bleaching was the latest in a series of global warming- and human-related assaults on the reef; this one attacked the reef she had already worked to restore, setting back her progress significantly.
Outrigger’s Ozone began in June 2015, joining a number of other resorts working to undo the reef damage caused by large structures on the beach, climate change, land-based pollution and the impact of fishing. There’s a prevailing sentiment that beach and island resorts contribute to erosion and environmental destruction. Outrigger Konotta, along with Wakatobi Dive Resort in Bali, the Andaman in Malaysia, Alila Manggis in Bali, and Taj Exotica in the Maldives, aim to do the opposite. All five run reef reconstruction and conservation programs.
“Programs like this have to come from the heart,” Doris Goh, the chief marketing officer of Alila Manggis, said. “We believe in being good neighbors and showing that there is sustainability in tourism and that we will protect the environment and the beauty of it for future generations.”
The coral restoration process is similar across all the resorts: broken but still-living coral fragments are attached to a frame, either metal or concrete, and the whole system is secured underwater. It’s a slow process (coral takes about 10 years to fully grow) but with care and protection, the reef regenerates itself on the frames.
“We can plant so many, but then the coral itself has to reproduce,” Ms. Goh said. “The reproduction eventually makes it into a coral forest.”
The Andaman takes a slightly different approach. The marine biologists there have developed Asia’s first inland coral nursery, allowing guests and staff members to start the regeneration in a safe place and then transplant it into the ocean. All of the frames coming out of the Andaman’s nursery are designed to become carbon-negative within a few years as well, to reduce the property’s carbon footprint, the general manager, Christian Metzner, said.