A joint project between ELI Africa, the Mauritius Oceanography Institute, and the United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility
Impacts of Coral Reef Degradation
Coral reefs serve a critical role in the growth and stability of local aquatic ecosystems, providing habitats for a diverse range of biodiversity. These habitats in turn act as a key engine for socio-economic welfare. In Mauritius, healthy coral reefs significantly contribute to tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection, all three of which are vital aspects of the country’s prosperity. As can be seen from this graph, reefs contribute over $700 million in revenue annually from tourism and fisheries, and the cost of replacing reefs for the coastal protection value they provide would cost up to $1.5 billion, a cost Mauritius cannot afford.
All of this value is jeopardized by the loss of coral reef cover, which has significantly declined in recent decades worldwide due to a combination of pollution and acidification, coral blasting and dredging, sedimentation, poor fishing practices, warming ocean temperatures, and mass bleaching events. A recent study by the World Resources Institute expects that, if current trends continue, 75% of global reefs are threatened with destruction, and Mauritius is no exception.
According to MOI, certain lagoon reefs in Mauritius have lost more than 50-60% of of their live coral cover in recent years. Such an unchecked loss in reef cover threatens to jeopardize the Mauritian industries and welfare of citizens that rely on their sustained health. These pictures illustrate the degradation Mauritius’s reefs are experiencing.
The lagoon reef cover in Anse la Raie, Mauritius declined from 60% to 7% between 2004 and 2012 – MOI, Unpublished Data
Coral farming in Trou aux Biches
In recognition of these threats, we are installing a fixed rope coral nursery that nurtures coral fragments to rehabilitate the reef in the lagoon of Trou aux Biches in collaboration with MOI and the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF). Through funding by the UNDP-GEF’s Small Grants Programme, we will able to rear and transplant up to 5,000 coral fragments into the degraded and damaged lagoon of Trou aux Biches through the end of 2014. The three pictures below highlight different aspects of coral farming, including MOI’s multi-layered rope nursery prototype in the center, which has been adapted to local conditions and is cyclone resistant.
Local community empowerment
Trou aux Biches represents the ideal site for community-based reef rehabilitation. There is a signficant population of artisanal fishermen who’s livelihoods depend on the health the reef, and many of the area’s restaurants and roadside food stands rely on locally-caught fish to populate their menus. As well, the town boasts a world-renowned beach, and the community of this popular tourist destination derives much of its revenue from tourism, especially through scuba diving and recreational boating. Through the coral farming project with MOI, we expect to protect and enhance the socio-economic well-being of the Trou aux Biches community by restoring the health and biodiversity of the local marine ecosystem. Ultimately, we hope to use the project to teach local residents and our ELI students about the value of, and to take ownership for, the sustained health of their underwater environment.