Why plant corals on a dying reef?

A lot of people ask the question that makes perfect sense and raises concern … “why plant corals on a dying reef?” However, nature has a twist to that seemingly obvious outcome. Please allow me to share my experience with coral farming in Fiji since 1998.

Coral Farming rack 1, Walt Smith of ADE Project Fiji

Fiji’s first bleaching event took place in the year 2000 and I hosted Dr. Bruce Carlson down here to record and document the event. To give you scale, the main Island of Fiji (Viti Levu) is larger than the big island of Hawaii so to drive from my city (Lautoka) to Suva (Fiji’s capital) takes about 4 hours and you are not even half way around the Island.

Fiji has about 330+ islands and owns the largest coral reef system in the South Pacific with the third largest Barrier reef in the world. The 2000 event mostly took place on the Suva side and on the Lautoka side we saw very little bleaching. During that event Suva lost more than 85% of all its corals but 5 years later their reef was on the way back to full recovery. There have been only two major events since 2000 even though there may be very minor hot spots hitting sporadic locations over the years. There is no consistency related to these events. This year the tables have turned, and we have almost the opposite of 2000 where the Lautoka side has a severe event going on and the Suva side is mostly unharmed according to the NOAA “hot spot” maps updated every 24 hours.

The bleaching “season” runs from March to early April. I was on my farms two weeks ago and things were pretty scary but not the “death row” I expected. One of the first signs of coral bleaching is that the coral takes on a day glow brilliant color before they turn white. If the water cools downs within a few weeks most coral will recover, even if they reach the white stage and don’t stay white for too long. What also happens is you can easily identify the strong survivors and utilize those clones for replanting assuming the genetic makeup of that coral flips the warm water the bird.

However, most important to remember, bleaching does not come to the same places every year (at least that’s what history shows us so far) and this is the first major event we have had in our area since it started to happen in Fiji.

I have been planting corals on the reef for more than 20 years now. Think about how many times those corals have had a chance to spawn year after year and how many grandchildren and great grandchildren +++ they have had over the years to naturally settle. So, you must ask yourself “what is the net effect of doing nothing?” and, have I wasted my time planting an estimated 1,200,000 corals over the last 20 years.

Can anyone even come close to estimating how many offspring those have produced? Bleaching will come and go but I truly believe that by creating massive amounts of cloned (the true term for Frag) corals we are also “teaching” them to become more tolerant to stress factors on a very real path to successful evolutionary change.

The pictures above show our racks two weeks ago. We have about 60,000 corals on these racks in 9 different locations.

Vinaka, Walt