Philippines divers plant nurseries for damaged coral

STORY: The Philippines is one of the most marine resource-rich countries in the world.

It counts 600 types of native corals and 2,000 species of fish.

But rising sea temperatures and human destruction is pushing many corals in the archipelago to the brink– endangering the ecosystem as well as tourism.

In the coastal town of Bauan– which has built its reputation on its stunning reefs– conservationists are fighting back by planting nurseries, where the next generation of corals can grow back stronger than before.

Carmela Sevilla has run a diving resort in Bauan for around 19 years.

In that time, she has seen the coral population suffer from rising temperatures, typhoons, as well as threats like plastic waste and dynamite fishing.

To protect the natural wonders upon which her livelihood depends, Sevilla devised a plan to begin planting nurseries for damaged, or ‘orphaned,’ coral.

She invited likeminded conservationists like Sam Shu Qin from Singapore to join the initiative.

Together, the team has so far collected 64 pieces of orphaned coral for the nursery.

"So for now what we are doing is we're attaching coral skeletons, we're attaching the corals skeletons on this net. It will serve as the base for the grafted corals, the corals that we want to propagate."

Divers then plant the rafts at sea.

Sevilla and her team hope to one day replant the rescued coral back in the wild.

But considering the coral growth rate is only one or two centimeters per year, that process that could take years.

Sevilla knows the nursery won’t solve the climate crisis alone, but she believes in the power of grassroots initiatives like this one.

“Everything that creates an influence has always started small. So I think that small efforts are what will make a difference because it builds up over time, it builds up slowly, and it's something that can last, and it helps create an impact on people."

In 2020, parts of this region suffered a mass coral bleaching event, which occurs when high temperatures turns coral white through algae loss.

And according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parts of the Philippines may experience more bleaching in the next three months– in what is likely to be declared a fourth mass global bleaching event.

Shu Qin believes the nursery project can help identify corals that are more resilient to climate events like the one on the near horizon.

“So sometimes some corals when they bleach and they recover, you know they can be a little stronger than their friends, right, so you want to really propagate that stock.”

“If we select those that are actually more tolerant to climate change, to higher temperature, that can survive higher temperature, then you can actually propagate more, so next time you are actually like building a reef of the future.”