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Biri Initiative's Mission to Restore the Coral Reefs of the Philippines to Their Full Potential

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Richard Ewen (second from left) with his team and some of the reef buds built to encourage coral growth along damaged coral reefs

In 2011, Richard Ewen, a long-term resident of the Phiilippines, decided to open a dive centre at the resort he had built on Biri Island, Northern Samar, in the Philippines. Unfortunately, when his business partner, David Parker, went for some exploratory dives, he found that all was not well with the local coral reefs.

Realising the immediate danger to the local ecology, and the livelihoods of the local villagers who relied on the marine environment for their survival, Richard immediately set about undertaking an initiative to repair the damage and educate the local population as to how best they can utilise the environment in a sustainable, yet profitable manner.

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The same reef bud showing healthy coral growth after 1 year (L) and again after 3 years (R)

In 2012, Richard registered the non-profit Biri Initiative Org with the Securities and Exchange Commission, seeking approval for the project from the local government, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Protected Area Management Board and other local stakeholders and coastal authorities. 

Richard's plans to build and deploy a variation of ‘reef buds’ to encourage the local coral to re-grow initially hit stumbling blocks.  Although the Biri Initiative managed to secure the help of local supplier Holcim Cement, and the assistance of local dive supplier Aquamundo, Richard and his team were unable to deploy their reef buds as they waited on permission from the Protected Area Management Board.

Fortunately, friends at Big Apple Dive Resort in Puerto Galera were able to deploy Biri’s reef buds in the already popular dive resort, and a second project at Calintaan was also born. Both of these proved to be successful and after an 18-month wait, permission was finally granted to deploy the reef buds around Biri Island.

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A raft built from locally sourced materials is used to assist with deployment of the Biri buds

Along with the cement buds, Biri Initiative conducts educational programmes with local residents to increase awareness of the marine environment and encourage people to work and interact with the coral reefs in a sustainable fashion, to make the most of the environment in order to preserve the local economy as much as the local ecology. 

Beach clean ups, crown-of-thorns removal projects, giant clam seeding and a coral nursery are all part of the programme, and internships are available to both local and international students where they can learn to dive as they learn about the reef.  

Proving that the Biri Buds were a success, in January 2017 the Biri Initiative began Project 250, the next phase of the coral restoration program involving the transplantation of loose coral fragments to the Biri buds. By March they had already transplanted 165 coral fragments, achieving a 95 per cent survival rate.

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Divers installing a new Biri Bud at Subic beach

With the assistance of a local marine biologist, the team is working hard to transplant the coral to both the concrete buds and cages made of iron. In order to do so, the project is looking for support and donations from around the world, as most of the funding comes from Biri Resort and Dive Centre.

You can read a lot more about the Biri Initiative, their projects, educational programmes and how to make donations on the Biri Initiative website. The video below from their YouTube channel, taken in March 2017, shows some of the success they have been having with a tour of one their coral gardens.

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