Grenada coral farmers restore reefs to their original beauty

Coral reefs are an important source of income for Caribbean islands such as Grenada, as they provide viable and profitable tourism, recreation and fishing opportunities. More importantly they are vital for protecting the island against waves, storms and hurricanes.

However, human activities as well as climate change and pollution are drastically reducing coral populations. With half of its coral reefs gone since the 1980's, the Caribbean is one of the worst affected regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that coral ecosystems, together with polar systems, are the most vulnerable to climate change as they are subject to rising ocean surface temperatures and acidification of marine waters.

Prolonged rise in ocean temperatures cause coral bleaching by breaking the symbiotic relationship between corals and the protozoa. These tiny organisms are responsible for the corals' splendid colours, but they also provide them with much of their energy. Under stress situations, such as the warming of marine waters, corals expel protozo. If conditions do not return to normal, corals gradually weaken and eventually die.

Furthermore, acidification, or increased levels of carbon dioxide, lead to a decreased pH in marine waters, which reduces phytoplankton and results in calcification. This weakens the corals'  skeletons and impedes their growth.

Acting on this urgent environmental challenge, last year UN Environment joined forces with the Government of Grenada and launched the Building Capacity for Coastal Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Small Island Developing States project.

The goal of this first of its kind initiative is to farm corals in areas with good temperature and acidity conditions.  In May 2015, the project established coral farms at Quarantine Point and Mabouya.

By mid-2016, the community used 2,000 coral fragments grown on Quarantine Point and Mabouya farms and transplanted these in the pilot areas of Grand Anse and Carriacou.

The success of this project goes back to 2014, when Grenada's authorities and communities agreed that coral restoration is the best strategy the island nation can take to adapt to climate change.

Apart from rising temperatures, overfishing and inappropriate fishing practices, coastal development, sedimentation, pollution from land sources and marine pollution are also serious threats for coral ecosystems. 

Coral reef restoration is necessary to protect ecosystems and coastal infrastructures, preserve biodiversity, address climate change and ensure the livelihoods of many communities. Coral reefs are indispensable for reducing the risk of natural disasters and as such they need to be protected.