Philippine Coral Restoration Project Reports 95 Per Cent Success

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The hand-crafted entrance to the underwater coral nursery (Photo: Biri Initiative)

In March 2017, the Biri Initiative - a non-profit organisation based around Biri Island in - Northern Samar, the Philippines, began a coral restoration project to regrow some of the depleted coral reefs in the area.

Founded by Richard Ewen, proprietor of the Biri Island Resort, a team of dedicated local volunteers has been transplanting broken coral to steel frames, as well as constructing their own concrete reef buds to encourage coral growth. Project 250 is named for the 150 'Biri-buds' and 100 coral cages that the initiative intends to install.

Ewen became concerned when divers first began visiting the local reefs, to find them badly damaged, partly due to poor fishing practices, drag nets and anchor damage. They set about gathering resources as part of a self-funded initiative to help restore the reef.

Although coral is frequently described as 'fragile', it is remarkably resilient to damage if given the opportunity to re-grow. Branching corals, for example, are quite easily snapped and broken, but if the polyps are able to be relocated to an area where they can receive nutrients from the surrounding water, they will begin to regrow.

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Some of the different methods being used to promote growth (clockwise from top left) the 'main' iron grid, coral tree, a new nursery bed and the concrete biri bud (Photo: Biri Initiative)

Part of the process involved in the Project 250 initiative is to take broken, but still living coral fragments, and affix them to the steel cages where they can be exposed to the movement of water and receive the all-important nutrients.

Once they have begun to 'bloom' again, the coral can then be transferred from the nursery and 're-planted' amongst the reef where they can start to regenerate properly. The process is not dissimilar to nursery trees which are grown and planted to counter deforestation on land.

The Biri initiative claims to have a 95 per cent success rate in terms of the amount of coral they have transplanted, and the number of Biri-buds which have begun to show signs of new coral growth.

In a drive to attract tourists, the coral nursery has been designed as an underwater park - a 5,000 square metre 'artificial seascaped habitat' to attract tourists who will be asked to pay a local government fee of up to 400 Philippine Pesos to visit, approximately £6 at the current rate of exchange. The income generated will be used to help police the Marine Protected Area, and also to fund marine education in local schools and colleges, with local villagers and children invited to participate in beach clean-ups and other conservation initiatives.

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Getting the local population - and especially the children - involved is all part of Biri's vision

The project has started to attract the attention of the worldwide media, with several articles in dive magazines, as well as the participation of Solenn Marie Heussaf, a Filipina-French model, actress and TV host.

George Cummings, Ocean Ambassador for the World Federation Coral Reef Conservation, and partner to Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue Project also visited Biri in August of this year. 'We had the pleasure to work hand in hand with George to share ideas and concepts, and after several dives with the Biri Initiative team, we were congratulated by him as he measured our success,' according to Ewen. 'He was so impressed with our work he will replicate it in Caribbean Ring of Hope Spots with Mission Blue.'

The project does not end with the creation of the coral nursery park. Along with the dedicated and time-consuming efforts to rebuild the reefs, Richard and his team have started work on providing mooring stations for local boats, to prevent further damage from anchors. Rescuing giant clams and removing the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish are also part of the initiative.

'This will be the benchmark,' says the team, one they hope can be replicated throughout the Philippines - and beyond.

The Biri Initiative is mostly self-funded and relies on charitable donations to succeed. To find out more about the Project 250 and the team, check out their website for more information and how to donate. A short preview of the park is in the YouTube link below.





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