Adopt a coral with Coral Guardian!
Interview with Audrey Maillard, Partnerships Manager & Coco Tamlyn, Communications Manager at Coral Guardian.
Hello Audrey and Coco, thanks so much for agreeing to join us for the fifth edition of Fanatalk: a conversation between nature enthusiasts.
Along with this interview, we’re also presenting a new section on the Fanatura blog. We’re going to be sharing information about some of our favourite organisations that help to protect biodiversity. Your association rebuilds and protects coral ecosystems by getting local people involved and raising public awareness. We’re excited about looking at what happens behind the scenes at your wonderful initiative known as Coral Guardian.
Fan. First of all, what gave you the idea?
A.M. It came from our founder, Martin Colognoli. He’s a marine biologist who specialises in aquariums. He originally moved to Indonesia with the aim of exporting exotic fish to Europe. He soon realised that doing that would be disastrous for the species, because very few specimens survived the journey: 8 out of 10 fish were found dead when they arrived at their destination.
This realisation changed everything. He learnt that corals were home to 25% of marine biodiversity, so he decided to co-found Coral Guardian in 2012, with the goal of preserving the habitat of a species that, until then, he had been exploiting. Several attempts were unsuccessful. Then came the Hatamin project (Pulau Hatamin Coral Sanctuary), which has been our pilot initiative since 2015. The site is located on an island northwest of Flores, near Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. As a result of our hard work, the area was officially declared a government-protected marine area in 2019.
Fan. How did you implement your programme?
C.T. It’s all about long-term effort. So the local population needs to be on board. The first tests that we ran in Bali showed that without the help of local residents, our actions would always come to nothing. The success of the Hatamin site is largely due to the fact that two thirds of the people who work there used to fish in that same area.
Fan. We saw on your website that they used to fish with dynamite. Is that right?
A.M. It seems impossible to believe, but yes, they used to fish with dynamite and cyanide! That meant they brought in great catches, but not for long… In fact, they had to go further and further away to find the fish. Because the village with a population of 750 people depends on fishing for its livelihood, they had to act fast. When we observed the damage, we found that the coral had been completely destroyed around their reef.
Fan. How do you “replant” coral?
A.M. The language used to talk about coral is quite strange, because even though it’s a species of animal, we use terms that are more closely related to plant reproduction: sowing, seedlings, cuttings, etc.
C.T. There are various techniques for replanting coral. We tested several of them (ropes, ceramics, concrete, etc.), we finally decided on light metal structures that could withstand the fairly strong currents in the region. The first corals we grew there were the same as the very few that had survived from the original reef. We have always focused on replanting endemic species. With around 38,000 corals transplanted, we are now taking cuttings from the first structures.
Fan. It’s five years since the project began. Is the reef now completely restored?
A.M. Most of it is, yes. If the cuttings of tropical coral settle into their environment, they can develop rapidly. They grow a centimetre to a centimetre and a half every month. Results can be seen very quickly. We now have an area of rebuilt coral that extends over about two hectares.
Fan. Have the techniques you developed been used elsewhere? Do you share your insight with other initiatives around the world?
A.M. Yes, absolutely. As this experiment has been successful for science, the environment and the local populations, we have created a programme called “Blue Center” which provides support from Coral Guardian to any organisation looking to develop its own restoration project. There is a permanent call for applications on our website. Just complete an online form. Depending on the level of urgency and the project’s feasibility, we decide whether or not to follow up on the request. Our support ranges from straightforward advice in the form of a training manual for the most independent suggestions, and financial support and monitoring over a minimum period of three years for “core projects”.
Fan. How many of those projects are underway at the moment?
A.M. We have three solid cases in review. The most advanced project is in Malaga, Spain, where we are launching SOS Corals, the first interactive marine conservation project in the Mediterranean. This project will include different families of corals. And it’s very exciting to launch a restoration programme in Europe, close to home.
C.T. Above all, the issue we’re tackling is different because now we are fighting against pollution, the number-one problem in the Mediterranean. Our goal is to clean the seabed, educate locals and tourists, and restore the coral beds, which are a unique form of biodiversity in this area.
Fan. Your approach to fundraising is pretty fresh. You ask people to pay €30 to “adopt a coral”, which means providing the funds to transplant it. How exactly is the money used?
C.T. That is the exact cost of replanting a coral in terms of material and human resources. It also covers the studies involved, as well as operating costs for the association. However, it is not a sustainable economic model because it is a one-off donation. By definition, if people only adopt a coral once, we won’t be able to safeguard the association’s long-term future. We are therefore encouraging people to make a monthly donation of whatever amount they choose, as well as adopting a coral.
Fan. When did you start this donation system and how much of your funding does it account for today?
C.T. The coral adoption programme started in 2013 and it now accounts for about 30% of our funding. So these donations are absolutely essential not only from an economic point of view, but for our image. As people often adopt a coral as a gift for someone else, details about Coral Guardian’s work are shared with more and more people. It’s a great tool for raising awareness about what we do.
Fan. How does the initiative work for the donor?
C.T. Each donor can give a name to the coral they adopt. The donor then receives a certificate of the donation with the GPS coordinates of the area where it will be transplanted, with a symbolic photo of a coral and a shot of the person who will handle the operation. Unfortunately, we cannot provide specific details about each individual coral we transplant, but we share information with our donors on how the area is developing through our social media accounts and our monthly newsletter.
Fan. Is there an estimate of the overall condition of coral reefs around the world?
C.T. The most recent reports drawn up by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) all state that in the space of forty years, about 40% of the world’s reefs have already disappeared. Scientists also agree that if nothing is done by 2050, almost all of them will have disappeared. The finding is worrying, but our initiative, as well as other programmes around the world, are showing that this bleak picture doesn’t have to become a reality. The only thing we know for sure is that we need to act now, and we need to act together. We know how to go about replanting coral, so with financial support we think that humankind will rise to the challenge.
Fan. A bit like we did for the hole in the ozone layer by limiting our use of greenhouse gases. According to scientists, that problem will be permanently resolved by 2070, thanks to international agreements that were signed at the end of the 1980s. What more do you think we can do to increase awareness and support coral-protection initiatives?
A.M. Every individual and collective initiative that helps to preserve biodiversity is a small victory. As results are being published on social media, public awareness can only be improved, and behaviours to curb overconsumption will become more widespread. Once again, we can only achieve that if we all work together.
Fan. That responsibility weighs especially heavily on the shoulders of the young generation, who have been born into a world that already suffers from these problems. They feel very strongly that it’s up to them to heal the planet …
C.T. Exactly. Recently I got an email from a 12-year-old girl who lives in Lyon. She had adopted a coral and was adamant that she wanted to support us and promote our work by putting up posters around her school. And we’re receiving more and more requests like these. We have actually created a promotion kit for people like that pupil who want to do their bit. It contains various tools to help them organise a mini conference on the subject with those around them. The kit has been used by people of all ages in junior high and high schools, diving centres, youth hostels and companies. Contact us if you’d like to receive one yourself.
Fan. Have these spontaneous initiatives ever turned into concrete actions?
A.M. Yes, sometimes with incredible outcomes! A high school once organised a display booth about our work at their Christmas market. The donations they received actually funded an entire reef (€900). Reef sponsorship is also popular with companies. One of our CSR programmes takes care of requests from businesses. For individuals, coral wedding anniversaries (11 years in some countries, 35 years in others) are also a great opportunity to give a meaningful and original gift.
Fan. That’s a brilliant idea! You’re obviously highly creative on all fronts, right down to your email signature: “Bien coraillement,” (“Corally yours,”) which just goes to show that it’s possible to tackle a serious issue with a touch of humour. Now that the coral life has been restored to Hatamin, have you been able to see it for yourself?
C.T. I was lucky enough to go last year and it was an incredible experience! What struck me most was the generosity shown by the fishing community of Seraya Besar. The people there lead simple lives, they feed themselves on the fish they catch every day, and are generous to a fault. As they are near to the Komodo National Park, there are lots of tourists in the area. There’s an English teacher in our team who gives classes to other members and at local schools. Our team can then raise awareness about the subject among tourists, and help children (the next generations) to learn how to do the same.
One of the fishermen told us that he had to stop fishing in the area five years ago and was forced to go further out to sea. Two years ago, he started fishing closer to the island, on either side of our protected marine area, which itself cannot be fished. Now he fishes as close as he can to the area, and sells the large groupers he catches there. We keep tabs on the fish population by talking to the fishing community every week. Over the last four years, the number of fish in the area has increased 30-fold. It’s a real victory!
Fan. To celebrate that success, here is a beautiful illustration of a yellow grouper that was drawn almost 200 years ago by Japanese naturalist Kawahara Keiga. It might be a good design for a Fanatura T-shirt?
Fan. Many thanks to both of you for talking to us, we’ll keep checking in to see what you are doing as ambassadors for nature with your outstanding Coral Guardian projects. Readers, why not adopt a coral right now?!
Translation from French by Ruth Simpson
If you’d like to know more about the Coral Guardian initiatives, check out these links ▾
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