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Record Breaking Bula Reef in Fiji


Record Breaking Bula Reef in Fiji

Launching Fiji’s BULA Reef – the largest word ever written under the sea

Plantation Island Resort and Corals for Conservation launch UNESCO endorsed BULA Reef nursery in Fiji in support of World Ocean Day, 8th June 2024

The word BULA (a Fijian greeting also meaning ‘life’) was immortalised beneath the Malolo waters off Plantation Island Resort on World Oceans Day (Saturday 8 June) with Fijian NGO Corals for Conservation unveiling BULA Reef – an important new ‘super’ coral nursery initiative developed as part of the UNESCO-endorsed Reefs of Hope program.

Fijian marine biologists have worked diligently since September 2023 to create BULA Reef – the world’s biggest word ever written underwater and written in heat-adapted corals.  They celebrated the inauguration of Bula Reef at a celebratory event at Plantation Island’s Tavola restaurant, where community chiefs and tourism dignitaries have gathered to mark the occasion, with some lucky VIPs invited to witness the coral-covered script from above by helicopter.

Reef 1

Plantation Island Resort has been working with Reefs of Hope founder, Dr Austin Bowden-Kerby since 2018 to develop coral nurseries and to establish a model implementation site for the region, as coral reefs all over the earth face widespread threat from bleaching due to warming seas resulting from climate change. Because of the diversity of life found in these habitats created by corals, coral reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea” and are important for sustaining community food security, tourism, and coastal protection in Fiji and globally. 

Despite their great value, coral reefs are on the leading edge of the impacts of climate change and are predicted to go extinct within the next 30 years.  With Bula nursery and other Reefs of Hope Ocean Decade strategies, Plantation Island Resort reports that we now have solutions to help prevent coral species extinctions and coral reef collapse, buying time for the global economy to transition away from fossil fuels, which is the ultimate solution. 

BULA Reef is part of Dr Bowden-Kerby’s science-backed Reefs of Hope strategy and was initiated with the assistance of Plantation Island Resort’s own Fijian/Australian General Manager, Alex Wilson.

Reef 2

Over six years, he and Mr Wilson (with the help of dozens of local and international marine biologists and volunteers), took to the water to test various sites, learning by doing, and building on success. The Bula Reef location sits just off Malolo Lailai in the Mamanuca Islands, where ocean currents come together to create the perfect super coral nursery and coral breeding ground. As the corals grow, they will be trimmed to create restoration patches on the Great Sea Reef, which has suffered from repeated marine heat waves over the years.

Dr Bowden-Kerby said the tourism industry – specifically Plantation Island Resort – has by far been the biggest donor and supporter of the project since its inception. He credited General Manager Alex Wilson with the idea to name it the BULA Reef during their numerous paddleboard and snorkelling expeditions to the site.

Today, the word BULA is displayed as a 16 x 45 metre word, spelled out in elevated metal frame platforms installed by C4C and Plantation Island’s team, hosting over a thousand colonies of rescued heat resistant corals, taken from areas of extreme heat stress, and transplanted by a joint team of C4C staff, in-house resort marine biologists, and volunteers.

Reef 3

Bula Reef is a coral nursery composed of heat adapted corals taken from jeopardised coral populations in the extreme shallows nearby – corals located in the hot thermal layer that sometimes forms at low tide on windless days and can reach in excess of 36C (97F).

As Dr Bowden-Kerby explains, “These corals are living at the upper thermal limit for coral survival, and they are also at the physical limit of growth, as many of them have reached the water surface and sometimes stick out of the water at low tide.

“In the past, climate change took place over hundreds of years, and corals had time to adjust and to move via sending out their drifting larvae, but the changes now are taking place far too quickly, over one to two decades.  Heat adapted corals cannot swim – they cannot move themselves out to cooler waters where they could survive, and so we are helping them, by moving whole colonies out and into cooler and deeper waters nearby.”

Reef 4

With ocean temperatures far above even the worst predictions over the past two years, a sense of urgency has driven C4Cs work in recent months, as they identify the most heat-resistant corals and move them to where they may have the best chance of surviving the hot water and avoid bleaching during the summer months.

“Coral reefs are the foundation of life in the South Pacific Islands, providing food security, economic wealth, tourism, and protection to shorelines and villages,” explains Dr Bowden-Kerby. “BULA is our cry to action, to actively work with corals to keep them alive and well in spite of the stress.    It is an invitation to all to join us in working to save the lives of corals on this most jeopardised ecosystem.”

BULA Reef is the largest rescue reef of its kind in history.  Significantly, as the first Reefs of Hope project to be launched, the BULA Reef also represents the first and only coral-focused adaptation program to be officially endorsed by UNESCO as part of its Ocean Decade of Action, providing the highest level of international recognition for the project.

Reef 5

Lee Pearce, Chief Executive Officer of Plantation Island Resort’s owning company, Raffe Hotels and Resorts said the importance of BULA Reef is recognised by his entire team, with the launch considered a milestone moment for the resort and the company overall.

“BULA Reef truly brings to life our values and passion for community and Fiji’s fragile ocean ecosystem,” he said. “Our relationship with Corals for Conservation is one we are absolutely proud of. We support them wholeheartedly in their scientific endeavours to sustain this fully tended nursery, and their mission to nurture and transplant super corals to other reef locations in need throughout Fiji.

“As responsible tourism operators, we contribute and play a part in working together with traditional island communities to save the reefs that we all depend on. For us here on Plantation Island, the BULA Reef helps us give back and do that in a really impactful way.” 

Reef 6

Mr Pearce said that this coral nursery differs to other projects in Fiji because it is entirely scientifically based and tended year round.  “We have become aware through trial and error that set and forget type installations seem to fail when they are not scientifically supported, which is why our approach is important, and producing results.”

Plantation Island based Dulcinea Charters Fiji, who have donated their boats to the efforts, operate a snorkelling concession out of the resort, and they take resort guests out visit some of the restoration and other nursery sites on a weekly basis, accompanied by a resort marine biologist as the guide and narrator.

For those who want to explore the underwater scene a little closer to the resort, Plantation Island guests construct hundreds of small “fish houses”, igloo-shaped structures made of cement and stones, which are planted with corals to help create better habitat for reef-dwelling fish – an idea that is yet another element of Dr. Bowden-Kerby’s approach. This has now become a weekly activity for children who stay at the resort and is run as a regular kids’ club activity, both fun and educational. Once completed, the fish homes are placed in calm waters close to the shore, so guests can see them while snorkelling.

Reef 7

The BULA Reef – creating a model partnership

UNESCO’s endorsement for the project is the most significant advance yet in Dr Bowden-Kerby’s efforts to upscale the work to save coral reefs regionally across the tropical Pacific Islands. 

Dr. Bowden-Kerby said that while the endorsement does not come with direct funding, it can help in building a well-funded regional coral-focused program to save coral reefs in every nation of the tropical Pacific Ocean and beyond. “For example, the primary hot pocket that we removed the corals from for BULA reef has since March suffered a major bleaching and die-off event due to extremely hot waters coupled with extremely low tides, but none of the corals we moved bleached or died which is extremely encouraging.  So, we know that this program is working, and we have a proven way forward that others who are properly trained might also carry out and benefit from.”

Reef 8

Today, Dr Bowden-Kerby bases himself between his “Teitei Livelihoods Centre” a permaculture farm in the Sigatoka Valley, trips to Pacific Island partners in the region, and the BULA Reef’s base on Plantation Island Resort. In addition to providing many hours of volunteer support, Plantation Island Resort continues to support C4C in its endeavours as the organisation’s exclusive accommodation partner in Fiji, hosting numerous workshops for international marine biologists who study under his watch and donate their time to contribute to the project.  So far 120 people from 14 nations have been trained, including those from Samoa and PNG in the region.

“In my opinion coral reef restoration can become a useful tool if well integrated into a community-based management framework to support tourism,” he explained. “The indigenous community and chiefs of Malolo have been supportive and are rightly proud of this accomplishment. It is worthy to note that in Fiji over 400 no-fishing Tabu areas have been established in support of marine conservation.  The challenge now is to train key community members in as many communities as possible to begin propagating heat resistant corals within these areas, to reinforce their investment and ensure that the coral reefs survive into the future in spite of increasing ocean temperatures and then there is the job of monitoring and supporting this community-based work.

“Plantation Island Resort is showing best practice in the marine environment, investing in hiring marine biologists as permanent staff to carry out the programme.  These are meaningful jobs based on a foundation provided by the two local universities and C4C training these staff to a professional level, so that they become skilled coral reef restoration scientists as well as community workers interacting with indigenous communities and chiefs to create permanent no-take areas in the wider area around resorts.  It can truly become a model partnership between a resort, the indigenous reef owning community, and a small conservation NGO.” 

Fiji’s worldclass reefs are of immense ecological significance. The reef ecosystem is an important natural barrier that reduces the devastating impact of waves during cyclones across the islands, limiting the risk of tsunamis and reducing the risk of flooding, damaged land and coastal erosion. Traditional island custodians and communities to this day rely on the reefs for subsistence, livelihood and sources of income.  Tourism contributes about 40 percent to Fiji’s GDP and is a significant contributor to economic growth, and the reef is vital asset and drawcard for guests from around the world, supporting the livelihood of many Fijians who work in this industry.

With all of these important reasons in mind, Plantation Island Resort remains deeply committed to community and corals both and focusses on practices that reflectits passion for sustainability and continual improvement. Visit for more information.

About Corals for Conservation

Corals for Conservation uses science-based techniques to grow threatened coral species and create a sustainable source of healthy coral colonies for use in active reef restoration. C4C’s work is supported in Fiji and five other South Pacific nations via Global Giving crowdfunding and by small grants from UNEP, EU’s RERIPA Initiative, and DFAT funds via Kyeema Foundation in Australia.  Working with communities, resorts, and local NGOs on coral restoration, coral reef management, and alternative livelihoods to support no-fishing areas in Fiji and regionally. Visit for more information. You can also listen to Dr Austin Bowden Kerby discuss Corals for Conservation here on You Tube.

About Plantation Island Resort

Plantation Island Resort offers a great value Fijian experience in a five-star destination. Nestled on the 553 acre island of Malolo Lailai, part of the Mamanuca Group of Islands, the resort is spacious and set amongst 23 acres of tropical gardens, coconut palms and white sandy beaches that front the island’s sheltered blue lagoon. Appealing to families, friends and fun-loving couples, the resort offers several generous accommodation options to suit most budgets including a variety of garden, poolside and beachfront settings. Guest facilities include several swimming pools, children’s playground, games room, two restaurants and bars, a snack bar, mini mart, Batabata milk bar, golf course, hairdresser, and medical centre.

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Picture of Adrian Stacey
Adrian Stacey
Scuba Diver ANZ Editor, Adrian Stacey, first learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef over 24 years ago. Since then he has worked as a dive instructor and underwater photographer in various locations around the world including, Egypt, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and Saba. He has now settled in Australia, back to where his love of diving first began.
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