For the last 15 months, we’ve been working on the implementation of a coral regeneration program here in Rarotonga.
The reef here is beautiful and unaffected by bleaching, but there’s always room to help it along.
The process has been slow with some significant impact time-wise gaining necessary permissions from the host of agencies involved here.
Throughout the process of gaining permission for the location of our site, we’ve had incredible support from the National Environment Service. Who sorted our Environmental Impact Assessments, Ridge 2 Reef project, Ministry of Marine Resources, our Tourism Industry and the Ports Authority here in Rarotonga.
Our original site was planned to be between the two main harbour mouths on the North of the Island. It was selected as a prime location due to the less than perfect environment of vessel movements and exposure to the worst of the elements here alongside incredible biodiversity despite the relatively higher levels of sediments and occasional Brackish waters running from the streams which originally formed these passages through the reef.
This site had been identified as early as the 1990s as one to monitor because of this uniqueness by Dr Teina Rongo, Chairman of Korero O Te Orau or KOTO and noted Doctor of Marine Biology. He offered his support for both the location and the proposed methods for the coral regeneration program.
After innumerate dives around that area, we determined a mooring site and submitted GPS coordinates to gain permissions for a fixed mooring in around 8 metres of water.
Unfortunately, that site is a potential run-off zone for shipping, and as such and with due care for the Safety of all Ocean users permission was declined at an 11thhour meeting with those agencies involved.
Safety is our absolute priority at Dive Rarotonga, and we moved on from that location.
Multiple investigatory dives later within the same depth zones but away from the controlled area around the harbours, we found our new site and submitted our GPS coordinates once again.
Approval was granted and despite there not being the same environmental challenge seen in the original site, we have a location accessible to all recreational Ocean users again in the 8-metre depth range.
A fixed mooring was installed on a significant chunk of steel deck plate from a vessel sunk in the ’90s on 9th May.
Our first three Coral transplant frames were lowered into the water on 13th May and positioned radially around the mooring. These will be fixed into the rock when we get a break in surge and wind, drilling rock and dead Coral blocks to insert our frame legs sufficiently to survive our storm season (hopefully!)
We plan to install a maximum of twelve frames at this site and populate them with ‘Corals of Opportunity’ as we find live, healthy fragments on our transplant trips.
We have an anticipated frame lifespan of 12 – 20 years before corrosion renders them too fragile to support themselves. Mounting the frames into the rock of the sea bed will hopefully allow transplanted Corals to attach to the natural substrate over this period of time.
Frames have been built in-house at Dive Rarotonga, using flux-free MIG welding, so we’re not transporting toxins into the water. The first two have had an extensive weathering experience during our wait to get them into the Ocean.
Attaching Corals to the frames has been the subject of a lot of thought. Zip ties are easy but break and pollute with yet more plastic rubbish. Marine epoxies, while relatively benign once cured, are not a friend of the environment either while being mixed or in their production. We have opted for mild steel wire to tie our fragments to the frames. These too will corrode and break, but 1mm wire should fail after our fragments have attached and are thin enough to twist with simple hand tools underwater effectively. Time will tell.
We have experience from working in Madagascar in Reef Conservation of assorted attachment methods and a process of elimination has led to this choice.
We’re very early days with our project here but have been busy during our delays.
We have three unique PADI approved Distinctive Specialties written and ready to run, all based around this project. Another two are work in progress.
We have Benthic Survey Diver, Invertebrate Survey Diver and Coral Nursery Cleaning Diver all available to teach now and all are based over two dives taken on the same trip to this site.
Once we have our frames safely anchored into the rock, a camera stand will be installed so people can take part in a little citizen science too, each being able to take a picture of the site from the same distance and point each time. Uploaded to a site and acting as both a development record and calendar.
We’re expecting a fantastic range of biodiversity to populate our project site over time, so the records and data from PADI Distinctive Courses will prove hugely useful.
We’re excited and will be more so once we have populated the frames.
Article Written by Dive Rarotonga
Photo Credit: Dive Rarotonga
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