Oct 03, 2016

A Non-Profit Crowdfunding to Rebuild Damaged Reefs in Andaman Islands

In a much needed effort to rebuild damaged coral reefs, a marine conservation non-profit based in the Andaman Islands has launched a crowdfunding campaign.


Nayantara Jain

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Human life is at a unique juncture on our planet. No other life form has ever managed to propagate itself so far beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystem it inhabits. This has been possible thanks to the way we have been able to innovate and use technology.

Technology that has allows us to grow food, trap water, create energy and build shelter in ways that support human life in spaces and numbers that was otherwise impossible.

In many ways we have become so dependent on technology that we seem unable to curtail or alter our use of it despite clear indications of its impacts on natural ecosystems and global cycles of water, nutrients, the very air we breathe and therefore our long term ability to survive on Earth.

Given that technological advances have been the cause of much destruction of our natural world – the carbon fuels warming our planet, huge trawlers destroying miles of seabed and emptying our ocean – it comes as no surprise that conservationists have been reluctant to accept that technology might also be a saviour.

Coral Reef in the Andamans Island. Photo © Sumer Verma
Coral Reef in the Andamans Island. Photo © Sumer Verma

This is where I believe lies our error. We should use what we are good at to fix what we have damaged. And thankfully, slowly, conservationists are beginning to do just that. Apart from encouraging global shifts towards renewable energy and efficient waste management, conservationists at the grassroots level are using technology to achieve their goals.

Drones are being used to monitor protected areas. Camera traps are counting tigers. 3D printing is giving turtles back their limbs lost in traps and nets set by humans. Teenagers are developing clever techniques of cleaning up the tonnes of plastic floating around in the ocean.

And this change is not coming a second too early. Many fragile ecosystems – especially coral reefs – are being damaged at a rate that is too fast for just traditional methods of conservation to suffice. The traditional form of conservation for corals are to establish marine protected areas – spaces where they are protected from physical damage arising from anchoring or tourists and from fishing pressures. This is a step forward but doesn’t do enough to protect them from changing water chemistry or rising temperatures – both of which corals are highly susceptible to.

ReefWatch Marine Conservation – an Indian NGO working in the Andaman Islands – seeks to bring active restoration techniques, proved successful in several other countries, home for the first time.

This technique collects rescued coral fragments, and restores them on metal structures that act as artificial reefs. These metal structures are supplied with a low-voltage electric current that enables easy calcification through electrolysis and mineral accretion. The electric current can be supplied through wave energy, solar or grid based power. This simple technology boosts coral growth from their usual few centimeters per year to more than 7 times faster. Since less energy is used in growth, the coral fragments are also left with reserves to fight off effects of rising temperature and disease. The resulting artificial reef is not permanently reliant on electricity. The power can be turned off at any point and normal growth continues. No living coral is broken or harmed in the process. Such reefs have been used in many countries to create a bigger habitat for coral inhabitants and to reduce the pressure of tourism and fishing on natural reefs.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-12-57-38Unfortunately, large organizations, governments and international foundations are locked into their institutional inefficiencies and are slow to respond to new and innovative forms of conservation. They remain firmly in the status quo, unwilling to support less established techniques. To overcome this obstacle ReefWatch has launched a crowdfunding campaign to demonstrate the benefits of such active restoration and rehabilitation projects in the Andaman Islands, to protect the coral reefs that are its lifeline for food, revenue and barriers against storms and tsunamis.

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Feature Image © Sumer Verma