Reefs of Hope - NAI'A Newsletter (Nov 2016)

Date Published: Oct 28th, 2016 - Comments
Author: Rob Barrel

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
~ Charles Dudley Warner, 1897

Today the same could be said about climate change and coral reefs. Massive coral bleaching events and destructive storms are devastating coral reefs more often as the ocean warms. The stunning and crucial reefs we have long taken for granted are under increasing threat. NAI’A divers don’t see this because we take you to the best sites we can find, which are famously gorgeous. But in 25 years in Fiji, I have seen the damage first hand and it breaks my heart. Many of us share the overwhelming feeling that there is nothing we can do about it.

But there is! We can grow “super coral”. The technology and expertise exists to rebuild coral reefs and in doing so restore the fish, invertebrates and the rest of the ecosystem that lives because of coral. NAI’A is taking the first step along that road less travelled with coral reef restoration ecologist Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby. You can join Austin and Cat Holloway aboard NAI’A in December as they plan and begin to implement a reef restoration project to utilize Fiji’s healthy waters and resilient reefs to raise the next generation of bleaching-resistant coral.  

Dr. Bowden-Kerby has been gardening corals in Fiji for over twenty years and is a lead consultant on highly successful reef restoration projects in the Caribbean. While colleagues of his in Florida and Hawaii are working in labs to develop fast-growing, bleaching resistant corals, Austin has taken a more direct and quickly scalable field approach: he harvests small branches from “super corals” that have survived major bleaching events and transplants them into sheltered nurseries where they grow quickly into “mother corals”. These corals are then trimmed regularly to create second-generation bleaching-resistant “seed corals” for transplanting back to the reefs, creating diverse reef patches that can better withstand increasing ocean temperatures. Austin calls them “Reefs of Hope”. 

An especially exciting aspect of Austin’s reef gardening approach is that it accelerates natural reef recovery because the restored patches of adapted corals and symbiotic algae serve to attract wild coral larvae, which use the scent of living corals as a signal to settle out of the water column. Therefore, in an area that has suffered large-scale bleaching or storm damage, newly settled corals of diverse species can become super corals by acquiring super algae simply by association with transplanted super corals!  So, by manually seeding a battered reef with small colonies of second generation super corals, both reef recovery and adaptation to a warming climate is greatly accelerated. We will make history on this voyage as we create a workable “Reefs of Hope” strategy for Fiji’s reefs, the first of its kind in the South Pacific. 

NAI’A passengers know that our itinerary includes Fiji’s richest and most healthy reefs – reefs that survived or rapidly recovered from the devastating bleaching episode in 2000/2001. Combine these already healthy reefs with select recolonization reef sites, supported and nurtured during NAI’A’s regular visits, and we can help nature create reefs that are much more likely to survive the inevitable next bleaching episode. As this process is verified and perfected, the methods can be exported to other places where bleaching or storm damage has occurred. 

For nearly a quarter of a century we have taken advantage of Fiji’s pristine and abundant reefs to thrill our passengers. But times and coral reefs are changing. Now is our chance to inspire the world to rebuild and enhance these beautiful and important habitats for the next generation of people, corals, and fish. 

If you want to get in at the beginning, especially if you have ideas and energy to help scale up the project, please join Austin and Cat from December 3-10. The itinerary is our normal one, but Austin and Cat will also be surveying for the best nursery and retoration areas within our range. There are only two rooms still available so contact our office straight away. We recognize that the cheap seats on the airlines are long gone so we’ll help by offering a last-minute discount of 30% plus your return-passenger discount…! (If you can’t make this charter but would like to get to Fiji even sooner, we’ll make the same offer on the few remaining spaces on the November 19-29 charter.) 

Welcome Vanessa and Chad

Cruise Directors Amanda and Joshua were so invested in their jobs that when the end of their 3-year contract approached, Amanda called her old boss Vanessa and talked her into taking over the helm for the next three years. And thus we welcome Vanessa Lill and Chad Allen, another young couple with experience beyond their years and heaps of enthusiasm. Vanessa is Scottish, Chad is American and both have travelled and dived all around the world. They were well prepared for the job before they stepped aboard and now, after three trips, they've totally nailed it!

You might wonder why Cruise Directors ever leave their dream job. Amanda wrote yesterday: "We have seen about a thousand incredible animals already including 10 very beautiful jaguars along the riverbanks of the Pantenal. It's pretty mind-blowing. We are off to the Amazon tomorrow." That's why! 

by Rob Barrel for the NAI'A Family


“Joann & I had a remarkable experience here in Tonga! Our diving trips mostly entail liveaboard boats and this one was the best yet – great crew & great food! You are fortunate to have the ownership in place to allow you to do it right! We won’t easily forget our “Whale Week” on NAI’A – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gig!!”

Terry & Joann

~ Terry & Joann