We asked our partners, The Oceancy, some questions about the state of the Coral Reefs. Enjoy the interview below with Luca Saponari. Luca is the Co-Founder, Scientific and Program Director at The Oceancy!
Is the local population on Velidhoo pleased with the coral regeneration we have seen so far, even with the bleaching? Have our efforts been enough yet for them to notice a difference locally yet, or do we expect it to take decades for the results to be real?
"The few events that we have organized have had a great impact with the participation of schools, local population, council and police members. However, we are planning to increase the impact with more events and with the creation of a sustainable financing model that would help the community not only in recovering their reef but also to generate revenue. The results are evident on a small-scale, meaning that corals are growing on the structure (beside the bleaching event which reduced survival) and fish are colonizing the area. Results on a larger scale, meaning on a reef scale, will take longer. This is because corals are relatively slow-growing organisms, so, assuming that the conditions are ideal, it can take a minimum of 5 years to decades to obtain a substantial, large-scale, resilient result. This is the reason why we must continue the project and never stop or give up. Our effort must be continuous through time. This is why recurrent financial support is essential. Yet, the impact on the community can be visible on a smaller temporal scale assuming that the business model is sustainable and resilient."
Is more bleaching expected this year?
"Coral bleaching depends on multiple factors including heat stress due to increasing temperature of the ocean water. In the Maldives, the hottest months are around March, April and May. Thus, we do not expect further bleaching this year (unless for other reasons). However, we might expect another bleaching for the next year during the same time. Such events have become more regular, with shortened intervals and increased intensity. Our hope relies on the survival of the stronger corals, their reproduction and continuous restoration effort."
How close or far away is the Mediterranean coral project? And are there ways to get involved with that? When do you hope to launch it?
"The coral restoration project in the Mediterranean Sea is under revision for sponsorship. Co-finance is an option that can be evaluated."
How did you choose Velidhoo for the coral project location?
"There is a nice story behind the selection of Velidhoo. I (Luca) have been working in a resort in the Maldives for many years. In the same Resort I have been lucky to have a colleague originally from Velidhoo (Raul). We have worked together in the same department and Raul followed the development of a similar project at the Resort and learned a lot about corals, importance of coral reef, education and restoration techniques. Raul was, and still is, a member of Baokalo. For multiple reasons (including COVID-19) I had to leave my job at the Resort but I keept contact with Raul, since we became close friends. Thus, he wanted to bring such knowledge to his island and start a small restoration project. I initially helped set up the very first "test" but the real plot twist happened with the arrival of The Oceancy. We decided to start an official collaboration and look for fundings to develop the restoration project in Velidhoo. Surprise, Coralee came into the story and Claire was the first sponsor ever for The Oceancy and the project in Velidhoo. Thus, thanks to Raul, The Oceancy, the members of Baokalo, the people in Velidhoo and obviously Coralee, this project took place in Velidhoo."
I know you said the mangroves projects are much bigger and growing faster- do you think there is less interest in the coral reef in general because it's more difficult to show the exact carbon footprint of the reefs or are people more out of touch with the ocean life?
"The reason is that coral reefs do not really or effectively directly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide based on the knowledge available. Therefore, there could be less financial attention if talking about carbon financing. However, we know that this doesn't mean that coral reefs are not important. In fact, financing restoration projects has been increasingly happening in the last decades to rehabilitate reef habitats and restore ecological functions (protection of shores, nursery for economically interesting fish, recreational reasons, etc..). On the other hand, coral reefs are underwater and any operation underwater has some additional cost, meaning that restoration underwater is on average more expensive than restoration on land, and it requires several specific skills (being a diver for example). However, people are nowadays more conscious of the status of the reef and the threats, which helps in increasing effort, financial support and positive outcomes."
What do you see as the most hopeful aspect of the coral project?
"The project has 2 main outcomes: ecological and social. Our hope is that the active restoration of corals would help in raising bigger financial support to increase the number of frames deployed which will attract more coral recruitment and a larger diversity of fish. At the same time, our hope is to increase the local knowledge and engagement in reef restoration, conservation and protection by transforming a direct action into an economically reasonable resilience."
What do you see as the biggest threat to the coral project?
"The biggest threat really depends on our actions. We (as human beings) might not reduce our carbon footprint causing an irreversible loss of biodiversity, including corals. We (again as human beings) might underestimate the financing of restoration projects. For example, projects that fully involve the local stakeholders, such as our project in Velidhoo island."
Another big thank you to Luca for answering all of our questions and keeping us informed on the state of our coral reefs! Another huge thank you to The Oceancy and the members of Baokalo, the people in Velidhoo. We are excited to continue this partnership and Journey!