Coral reef systems are among the greatest natural wonders across the world and provide a number of services to people living in coastal communities around the Caribbean. These services include things such as shoreline protection, nursery habitat for hundreds of other animals including fish and lobster, and aesthetic value for the tourism industry. In Belize these services were valued at more than 500 million USD/year. Climate change and other local threats are impacting these vulnerable ecosystems resulting in a major decline of healthy corals and their associated marine life, putting livelihoods at risk. Caribbean acroporids are key reef-building species but are already critically endangered, hence coral reef restoration is key to climate change adaptation.
Coral restoration in Belize
In Belize, reef restoration began over a decade ago, after Hurricane Iris – a category 4 storm, hit Placencia and Laughing Bird Caye National Park in 2001. Pioneered by Ms. Lisa Carne, she later founded the community-based not-for-profit organization, Fragments of Hope (FoH), which continues to lead restoration efforts in Belize in partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD).
With funding from Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) in 2006, trials began with naturally broken pieces of the critically endangered elkhorn (Acropora palmata) transplanted from Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) to Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP), which is part of Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System, World Heritage Site.
The majority of these original transplants are still thriving today, having survived multiple bleaching events, tropical storms and a Category 1 hurricane. Furthermore, they have been shown to spawn, with an 89% survival after over twelve years.
Nurseries were installed in 2009, with a focus on the three Caribbean acroporid taxa but also including eight other slower growing stony coral species, which led to massive out-planting beginning in 2010. Since then, FoH has installed and maintained over 23 in situ coral nurseries throughout Belize. In addition, out-planted over 80,000 nursery-grown corals to LBCNP alone, where they have increased coral cover from less than 6% to over 50%.
FoH has expanded their reef replenishment efforts to ten other reef sites including Gladden Spit and the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Moho Caye and False Caye, South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR) and Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR).
In addition to actively restoring the Belize Barrier Reef with acroporid corals, FoH has been very active in several outreach programs.
These include Sandwatch a UNESCO based program that focuses on evaluating community environmental issues and developing sustainable solutions with the three primary schools on the Placencia Peninsula.
Other programs have involved leading several lionfish round-ups with community members from the Placencia Tour Guide Association. As well as, working with the Belize Fisheries Department to provide a manual plus a three-day training workshop aimed at training coastal community members who are then employed part-time in restoration efforts. The success of coral reef restoration at Laughing Bird Caye National Park is hope for the threatened coral reefs.
Fragments of Hope Coral Restoration Project Across Belize and the Caribbean
WRITTEN BY MONIQUE VERNON