It is almost impossible to believe that the coral framework of the Maldivian ecosystem which existed for nearly 57 Million years is now under threat. Threats to the oceans such as plastic pollution, overfishing and mass occurrence of coral eating predators are now the leading headline of many articles in newspapers and scientific reviews. We cannot deny hearing about the phenomenon called “coral bleaching”, which may be confusing for the average reader, but is a recurring threat for any marine biologist.
Coral bleaching is often mistaken for a chemical reaction in corals simply because of the false connection between “bleach” and “chlorine”. In fact, coral bleaching is a recurring occurrence that happens when ocean surface temperatures heat up for longer than usual periods of time. The coral animal that lives in a mutual relationship with the algae called zooxanthellae that provide it with food and oxygen may expel itself from the polyps (in which it is housed) when stress levels becomes too high (such as in El Niño years). Once this tiny algae is no longer present, the transparent tissue of the coral skeleton become a bleaching white color. Corals that are bleached totally white, having lost nearly all of their symbiotic algae, have an extremely low chance of recovering because it takes several months for the algae to come back. In contrast, most corals that are only partially bleached will survive and recover quickly.
So how can we restore what has already been lost? The coral adoption and restoration initiative has great ecological value as it involves replanting reef fragments to accelerate the regeneration of coral growth in the Maldives’ reef-fringed atolls. Various methods are adopted in the Maldives and its success is monitored over many months and years. The contribution to coral reef conservation may include attaching coral fragments to steel structures, ropes attached to frames (floating nursery), to monofilament hanging from tree-shaped structures and sometimes mesh nets floating in mid-water of the reef.
The initial aim of attaching a coral to an artificial structure is to take it out of the sand and rubble where it could get smothered and subsequently, as it grows, it can adapt to its new surrounding conditions and grow to a juvenile size before it can get used to restock damaged reefs. Once it reaches sexual maturity it will be the base of a new breeding stock that can colonize even distant reef areas.