The consumers goods giant has partnered with The Nature Conservancy in its bid to replenish the ocean floor in Indonesia's Coral Triangle. Angeli Mehta reports
The health of seagrass meadows and mangrove forests are affected in turn by the health of coral reefs, which cover just 0.2% of the world’s seafloor but are home to a quarter of marine life and provide livelihoods for 500 million people.
But these vital ecosystems are another casualty of ocean heatwaves, that are becoming more frequent and longer lasting than even 20 years ago.
Scientists estimate that 25%-30% of coral reefs have been largely or completely degraded since the beginning of the 20th century, and 90% will be lost by the middle of this century, without intervention.
In May, consumer goods giant Mars Inc launched what it described as the world’s largest coral reef restoration project, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, which aims to restore 185,000 square metres of coral reef around the world by 2029.
We rescue corals from a wide variety of habitats in more extreme conditions, and this increases resiliency
The reefs have been chosen carefully for water quality and flow, explains marine scientist David Smith, who has been leading the project.
The first are in Indonesia’s Coral Triangle off the coast of Sulawesi. The reefs were destroyed by blast fishing several decades ago and haven’t been able to recover.
The restoration method involves creating a network of steel sand-coated reef “stars”, studded with a diversity of coral that have been chosen to cope with warmer climes.
“We rescue corals from a wide variety of habitats in more extreme conditions, and this increases resiliency. We also use a mixed bag of species, some of which will be tolerant to climate change. So the long-term viability of the restoration is absolutely central to what we think about,” says Smith.
Mars has also been careful to involve the wider community living around the reefs, in order to promote greater ownership of the process. It broke the restoration process down into six or seven different aspects and got different sections of the community to deliver them. Putting all the elements together created a really efficient and scalable process, adds Smith.
So far just a tiny fraction of the reef has been restored – it will take another two years to complete the work, but already coral cover has increased and species such as sharks and turtles are returning.
Fish stocks are growing, although it could take five to seven years for them to recover fully. As the reef builds up it will also start to provide some coastal protection from storm surges and erosion.
This article is part of The Ethical Corporation summer 2021 in-depth briefing on natural capital. Click on the cover to download your digital copy for free.