How the Coral Gardeners are saving the ocean’s lungs

"The ocean and the coral reefs have given me everything in my life: the waves I surf, the food I eat and even the oxygen I breathe."
Titouan Bernicot
Founder and CEO, Coral Gardeners

From reports of coral bleaching to the Great Barrier Reef dying – you may have heard about the devastating decline of coral reefs in recent news. While coral reefs may survive for the next few years, they are dying at a rate that threatens to undo their existence. Despite the stunning diversity of coral life and the important role it plays in maintaining oceanic biodiversity, all of the world’s coral reefs could vanish by 2050 if nothing is done.  But, Moorea-based Coral Gardeners is fighting hard against this bleak statistic to save them.

Raised in Mo’orea, the sister island of Tahiti that is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Coral Gardeners founder Titouan Bernicot is a child of the ocean. Naturally, he spent most of his time exploring the bliss-blue water body around him: diving, surfing, or swimming. He says, “Basking in saltwater before I could even walk, I was always well versed by the qualities of the ocean and the coral reefs. They have given me everything in my life: the waves I surf, the food I eat and even the oxygen I breathe.”

As time passed, Titouan could feel the changes the ocean was experiencing. In 2015, while he was surfing with friends, he realised that the corals under his feet had turned white. And a couple of days later, they had perished completely. This heartbreaking discovery led him to founding Coral Gardeners, an organisation that raises awareness about the importance of coral reefs, works towards restoring vulnerable corals and innovates the process of coral conservation. Within a short period of time, a small group of island kids grew to a worldwide collective of scientists, engineers, and advocates determined to save coral reefs by revolutionizing ocean conservation and generating collaborative action around the world.

Photo: Ryan Borne for Coral Gardeners
Photo: Ryan Borne for Coral Gardeners

If you need to breathe, you need corals.

Coral reefs are often called the lungs of the planet. Coral reefs are like big chemical factories that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen back into it, as well as protect shores from erosion caused by storms like hurricanes. At least half of Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean. This is particularly important for human beings in the longer term. As our climate changes, we may be able to rely on coral reefs to help remove some of the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Moreover, coral reefs shape our lives below and above the surface of the ocean; from every single wave we surf to every bite of food we eat and every breath of air we take. This means that there is more to oceans than just beach vacations. The ocean drives our economy: about 500 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their nutrition and income and 3 billion depend on seafood as a significant portion of their protein.

They also act as natural flood barriers, protect coasts from erosion, and prevent carbon dioxide from escaping to the atmosphere. Despite the stunning diversity of coral life and the important role it plays in maintaining oceanic biodiversity, all of the world’s coral reefs could vanish by 2050 if nothing is done.  

How Coral Gardeners is deep-diving into coral reef conservation

Coral Gardeners aims to create an ecosystem of conversation by adopting a holistic approach that utilises different techniques such as exploration, education, public engagement, technology and most importantly – community engagement.

Catherine Plourde, head of communications and awareness at the organisation says, 

“Our main focuses are reef restoration, raising awareness and innovation. To this date we have planted over 15,000 corals onto the reef. Our team recently finished our new gene bank nursery which hosts over 3,500 fragments of growing super corals. Once they will be large enough, we will trim them again and plant them onto the reef. We are also working on new nurseries and we will expand our activities internationally.”

She adds that innovating conversation efforts by using technology is really important as well. “We are creating connected nurseries using AI to improve our reef restoration and to provide an immersive experience to our community.” 

Be a part of the solution

While corals worldwide remain at risk, the good news is that individuals and organisations worldwide are working around the clock to revive and replant the corals lost and increase the immunity of the most vulnerable reefs. And, you can take simple steps to be a part of the conversation efforts.

First things first, adopt a coral. While planting corals will not stop climate change, it does give ocean warriors a fighting chance and delay the impact. Coral Gardeners has a brilliant coral adoption program on their website. The adoption makes for a perfect gift for a loved one as well.

While visiting a coral reef, practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling. This means that while you can admire the beautiful corals, avoid touching reefs or anchoring your boat there. Contact with the reef will harm the sensitive coral animals, and anchoring there can kill them. Also, most sunscreens are serial coral killers. Be sure to make an informed decision on which one to apply before entering the ocean.

Knowledge is power. Watch documentaries like Chasing Corals and Seaspiracy and spread awareness about the heartbreaking conditions.

And lastly, as Catherine says, “At Coral Gardeners, we believe in people and in the power of a worldwide community. Simple steps like sharing our awareness content will help us with our goal; for everyone on the planet to know what a coral is.” Spread the word.

Photo: Ryan Borne for Coral Gardeners
Photo: Ryan Borne for Coral Gardeners
Photo: Ryan Borne for Coral Gardeners

All images including the feature image are courtesy of Ryan Borne/ Coral Gardeners. You can check out the wonderful work that they do on Coral Gardeners’ website. Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.

I'm Ayushi Shah and I co-founded Eco-Spotlight to tell stories of green innovation and remind the world (and myself) that there is hope for humanity and the planet. Reach out to me at ayushi (at) eco-spotlight (dot) com

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