Coral Reef Restoration on the Gili Islands

The Gili Islands in Indonesia are a very popular tourist destination and boast over 6,000 different marine life species living just offshore. However, some areas of the shallow water corals across the three islands have been damaged because of coral heatstroke, land-based sewage, disease, the rise in sea level, over-fishing, and physical damage. It is extremely important to restore the damaged reefs in order to protect the coastal habitats. The local biodiversity is extremely remarkable and provides habitat for the protected species blue coral, green turtles, manta rays, and sharks, among others.

As the Gili Islands have increased in popularity as a tourist destination, both locals and vistors alike have recognized the importance of protecting the coral reefs which surround the islands, and an number of conservation projects have been set up.

Typically, a coral reef conservation programme involves site assessment, coral cultivation, designing artificial reef and immersion, coral transplantation, monitoring the biodiversity, and education. The techniques employed for coral reef rehabilitation include transplantation and the Biorock process.

Coral is first grown on locally made culture tables. Cuttings of these corals are then transplanted to artificial reefs made out of a neutral substrate. The neutral substrate has to be optimized for the coral to grow and the marine biodiversity to develop. Transplantation has been effective in restoring biodiversity and fostering a positive social, environmental, and social impact.

The revolutionary Biorock technology involves submerging a steel structure and applying a safe low-voltage electric current to it. The next step is strapping small broken pieces of live coral to the steel structure. It has been observed that this technique enables the coral to grow 3 to 5 times faster than the normal. Coral survival under pollution and elevated water temperatures have also been observed to increase by as much as 16 to 50 times.

The world’s second-biggest Biorock site is the Gili Islands. The archipelago is home to as many as 63 Biorock structures. International reef conservation training workshops have also been held in the islands. The Gili Eco Trust coordinates the reef conservation programmes, working along with the Indonesian Marine Conservation and Fisheries (DKP) and the head of the Trust oversees the Biorock projects around the islands. The first Biorock structure was set up in 2004. Since then many local and foreign research students have studied the effectiveness of the Biorock process as part of thesis work.

The Gili Eco Trust, established in 2002, is a not-for-profit organization. Its professed goal is to protect and conserve the reefs in Gili Islands. The dive centres on the Gili Islands have also joined together to keep the archipelago clean and prevent destructive fishing practices.

The Eco Trust has a key role to play in facilitating major conservation projects and handling day-to-day challenges of the dive sites, and the local community so as to maintain a reasonably healthy underwater environment. The Trust is operated by the business owners in the islands. Volunteers are always wholeheartedly welcomed to be involved in projects such as reef conservation, sustainable fisheries, prevention of destructive fishing and beach erosion, etc.

Coral reefs are considered to be the lungs of the oceans. Their conservation is vital because the coral polyps absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into limestone shells. Further, coral reefs ensure services and resources worth hundreds of billion dollars. Millions of people are dependent on them for protection, jobs, and food. In addition to buffering shorelines against erosion, storms, floods, and waves, biodiversity in coral reefs is a source for the development of new medicines.

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