A major environmental project to restore Seychelles' famous coral reefs is coming to fruition. Praslin and Cousin Island Special Reserve are the sites of the intensive Reef Rescuers restoration - a pilot project which began after the marine environment was identified as being under threat. Scientists revealed climate change presented the biggest single threat to the region's marine ecosystems - in particular, the Indian Ocean Dipole and El Niño had caused mass coral bleaching in 1998. It was described as a catastrophe when live coral cover decreased by up to 97%, causing many reefs to crumble into rubble.The recovery has been slow, even in designated no-take Marine Protected Areas – a safeguard put in place to restrict human activity that would hamper conservation efforts. Almost 20 years on, the coral cover has only just reached pre-1998 levels.
Climate ChangeThe Indian Ocean Dipole relates to differences in sea surface temperatures between two poles or areas. An oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon, it has been linked to changes in weather conditions and can affect the flow of warm, tropical water into the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. El Niño is characterised by exceptionally warm ocean temperatures, sea water that is low in nutrients and a complex series of climatic changes which have been known to reverse wind patterns or cause unseasonal droughts or heavy rainfall.
Environmental damageThe climatic changes had a disastrous effect on Seychelles' coral reefs - the coral bleaching in 1998 damaged the reef's resilience and the coral was unable to regenerate. It was also less resistant to disease, with the reef that had collapsed becoming covered in algae.
Reef restorationThe pioneering reef restoration project carried out by the Reef Rescuers began in 2010. Funding came from various sources, including the United States Agency for International Development and a joint cash injection from the Government of Seychelles Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development's Protected Area Project in 2011.
Known as coral gardening, different species of coral are grown in nurseries and transplanted on to damaged sites. This pilot scheme is the first large-scale coral gardening project in the region. Pieces of healthy coral are collected and raised in underwater nurseries, before being carefully transplanted on to sites damaged by bleaching. So far, 50,000 coral fragments have been grown in nurseries and 15,000 have been transplanted to repair degraded areas. The process is carried out by 30 scientific divers who have been specially trained in reef restoration.