There is an enormous array of marine diversity at the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park in Mozambique and for Nicole Helgason, Anantara Bazaruto’s PADI accredited diving instructor, it’s a dream come true to have recently launched the first coral rehabilitation frame near Neptunes Reef.
This area has suffered over the years due to many novice divers and destructive fishing, so Nicole’s task is teaching locals how to dive responsibly, while helping to restore the reef and improve fisheries on the site. Fish is the staple protein source, so good fishing practices have to be taught in order for the marine life to thrive. The coral reef is home to millions of tiny creatures which attract bigger fish, so its sustainability is vital to the whole ecosystem. Nicole has created many opportunities for locals to get involved and learn about conservation and the basics of coral gardening in order to benefit the community around them.
There have been many factors that have contributed to the degeneration of coral reefs throughout the world. Rising water temperatures, dangerous chemical spills, irresponsible diving and aggressive fishing methods have threatened the previously healthy corals. Nicole advocates certain guidelines that help prevent damage to the coral reef, such as never touching the coral or sitting on it and using a wetsuit rather than sunscreen, which contains harmful chemicals. If all scuba divers and snorkelers stick to the rules, then the reefs have a good chance of survival.
A lot of hard work went into installing the first metal frame at Neptune’s Reef and since then, two more have been constructed with the permission of the Bazaruto National Park. Coral gardening is a concept that is well known in places such as America, Asia and the Maldives, so there’s a precedent for success. Nicole and her team have planted over 70 fragments of healthy coral from nearby Paradise Island. Some corals grow relatively quickly and will be big enough to transplant on the reef in one year. Others will take a bit longer to grow, but they expect one 3-5cm piece to double in size in one year.
The collaboration of Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort & Spa has been significant and has contributed greatly to the success of the project – its name has been the inspiration for the venture. In Sanskrit, ‘Anantara’ means ‘infinite’ or ‘without end’.
Nicole elaborates: “The reef is an ongoing work in progress; coral is designed to grow in its own time and plays a crucial role in the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Many local communities rely on its produce and diversity. The reef is designed in the shape of a triangle, symbolising the balance of life, the inter-connectedness of everything”.
Locals have been shown how to harvest coral fragments that have broken off from the main colony and then to plant them effectively and the diving instructors at Anantara Resort have been trained on the continued maintenance of the project for future sustainability.
Nicole’s vision for the future is more than just planting corals. Like the branches of corals that grow infinitely, she expects an ongoing development, starting with trimming the corals on the structure and transplanting them back into the struggling, natural Neptune’s Reef and the benefits thereof integrating into the fisheries and in turn helping local communities.
“I would like to think that the coral gardening project can serve as a successful model for the continued development of marine conservation in Mozambique,” says Nicole.