Only Footprints in the Sand
By Dr. Gerry Goeden
Those readers who follow environmental news are no doubt concerned about where our little blue planet is heading. There certainly is a lot of bad news out there but there are many good news stories that get left behind as media try to shock and grab reader attention.
The Yum List wants to keep travellers informed about sustainability and environmental initiatives at resorts and restaurants; help you make ‘green choices’ that will give you and those that follow you a better experience.
One very exciting initiative that you can participate in is a coral reef rehabilitation project at the Andaman Resort on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia.
On December 26, 2004 a tsunami generated by the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, the third largest earthquake in recorded history, roared into Datai Bay on the Northwest corner of Langkawi. The bay and its nearby surroundings support the best coral reef development in the sleepy waters of this quiet island. When the tsunami struck, it swept tens of thousands of coral boulders shoreward stripping the southern half of the reef of most of its marine life and depositing it on the beach and in the adjacent rainforest.
In September, 2010 The Andaman Resort commissioned a survey of the Reef Platform. Contrary to appearances the Andaman Reef was still ‘alive and breathing’ but needed urgent help. Their solution was a two pronged approach.
First, they initiated a “coral clearing” program in which staff and guests clear away dead coral from among the still living colonies. This prevents further damage from tumbling coral boulders during times of heavy wave action. Using just their bare hands and wheelbarrows, hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers have already removed about 100 tonnes of rock greatly improving the chances of survival for the live colonies.
Secondly, the Resort owners dipped deep into their pockets and built a Coral Nursery. This swimming pool-sized saltwater reef is capable of producing several thousand small corals each year using tiny ‘cuttings’ taken from the wild. It is also a wonderful education center where people can view marine life and kids can be a “marine biologist” for a day and really get their hands dirty ‘saving the environment’. When the little nursery corals are tough enough they will be re-located to the Andaman Reef into small coral gardens.
So why all the effort?
Often called “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs comprise the most diverse ecosystems on Earth but are now threatened with destruction. They occupy just over 0.15% of the world’s oceans, yet incredibly they provide a home for an estimated 25% of all marine species. They really are the “engine room” of the sea and their loss will cripple the marine environment on a global scale. Doing something small but highly visible in Langkawi helps to focus attention on the plight of reefs around the world.
Productivity is higher than in other tropical waters and 6 million tons of fish are taken each year from the world’s coral reefs. Most of this stays in protein-poor countries. Langkawi’s community is largely dependent on local fisheries for protein and the next generation needs the Andaman Reef. As Langkawi’s eco-tourist industry increases so too will the cash returns from this rehabilitation program. A well managed reef lets you to ‘have your cake and eat it too.’
So, how does the traveler fit into a reef rehabilitation program?
If you plan to visit the Andaman you must get them to tell you when they are having their ‘coral clearing’ and ‘reef walk’ activities. These only happen when the tides are just right. You’ll miss them if you go at the wrong time!
Most other activities like coral transplanting, a guided snorkel in the nursery, children’s fish feeding, and a range of entertaining and educational experiences happen daily. There is something to do each day.
Children can be a marine biologist for a day and work side by side with a scientist. Feed Nemo and his anemone, look after lobsters, clear algae from coral beds, check out the giant clams; it’s all in a day’s work.
In the face of all the environmental doom and gloom the Andaman Reef story is heartening in that a small private business, its guests, and the surrounding community are taking on the responsibility of doing something positive toward environmental rehabilitation in the sea. By saving a coral reef the people of the Andaman are protecting the future of our children and providing unique and environmentally sustainable recreation for their guests.