At the start of the year we were proud to launch the ‘Love Grows Beautiful Things’ experience at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, which gives honeymoon couples an opportunity to mark their special union by sponsoring a coral fragment to grow and develop – just like their relationship – in Petite Anse bay.
Couples select a coral from a series of hard coral fragments that have either been rescued after breaking off from the main colony (through wave action, animal or human disturbance) or harvested from a strong wild donor colony. It is then attached by the couple to a heart shaped metal support. Just like if you were to prune a plant and then replant the clipping somewhere else, corals have the capacity to regrow from a tiny segment back into a whole new coral colony. To complete this process however they need time to remain undisturbed, and appropriate support to secure them to the substrate in which they are to grow on.
In the last few months, we have had the wonderful opportunity to watch our Love Grows fragments develop very successfully to their mobile heart shaped homes. We have witnessed strong attachment and growth from all three coral fragments, and a healthy layer of crustose coralline algae settle across the metal plate. Crustose coralline algae is a rock-hard red to pink calcareous algae that fulfils two key functional roles in coral reef ecosystems: they contribute significantly to reef calcification and cementation, and they induce larval settlement of many benthic organisms.
With such a positive response from these first few Love Grows sponsored corals, we were ready to move them from our shallow underwater nursery which has been their home for the last six months, back out into the wild once again.
In preparation for transplantation, corals were thoroughly cleaned of any turf, filamentaous or macroalgae growing along the metal support. These types of plants characteristically trap sediments which can smother corals and create refuges for coral pathogens to grow in. Similarly, as these algae types increases in abundance, they can actively weaken and overgrow live corals and compete directly for available space surrounding the coral. It is therefore of upmost importance to limit these types of plants on the metal support to minimise additional stress to the coral fragment whilst it’s acclimatising after being transplanted.
We then selected a patch of bare coral bed rock to transplant the coral on. In Petite Anse, due to the severe coral bleaching in 2015 and 2016 that was an effect of prolonged increased sea surface temperatures, there has been a shift in the environment from a more coral-dominated reef to bare coral rock dominated by algae. Therefore, these transplanted corals are so important not only to increase the abundance of hard coral colonies present in Petite Anse, but also to help maintain the reef system’s functionality by providing habitats, food and shelter to myriad of marine life. The corals are secured back onto the coral bed rock by drilling a hole (using a fancy underwater drill), and placing an expanding bolt in the hole and connecting it to the hole in the top of the heart support, allowing us to lock the steel heart plate into place on the substrate.
The next year of monitoring these corals will be very exciting! It is our hope that the corals will continue to grow across the metal support and eventually reattach to the natural substrate to form part of the coral reef again. Even more exciting will be to see just what types of marine life these new additions will attract.