Fragments of Hope reseeding and replanting Belize’s reef
Fragments of Hope is a non-profit community-based organization that has been working to respond to coral reef challenges by re-seeding and re-planting the reef with diverse and resilient corals. There are many threats to coral reefs, including intense hurricanes, warm ocean temperatures, plastic pollution, development and sewage. These have degraded Belize’s barrier reef over time causing us to lose live coral covers. But Fragments of Hope has been working to show that planting corals can help reefs to rebound when it loses coral cover in some areas. We went out to Laughing Bird Caye to find out more about their work. Here’s part one of reporter’s Andrea Polanco story with Fragments of Hope.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

This is what the Belize Barrier Reef looks like to most of us – vibrant, corals of different shapes and sizes, teeming with marine life. It’s a beauty to behold. But marine conservationists and those who use the reef daily will tell you that there are large areas of that look like this – empty of color – just white skeletons – those are corals that have bleached because of warm ocean temperatures this year. Marine researchers are still compiling data from the 2019 bleaching surveys – but from a look at these graphs – the bleaching this year seems to surpass 2017’s bleaching event at almost every site surveyed. This year, the bleaching event is severe and lasts longer –  but there is still hope for some of Belize’s corals.

Lisa Carne, Founder, Fragments of Hope

“This year, it is pretty bad again. Last year it wasn’t so bad. 2017 was not a good year for bleaching. And some of the out planted corals are not bleaching and that is what we term resilient – or resistant rather because they are not even bleaching and then some that are bleaching seem to recover in a month or two and we call those resilient because they are sort of bouncing back but even if they bounce back, the bleaching still affects the corals. It slows their growth rate, and their reproduction ability.”

 

The bleaching stress level jumped from a 1.7 level between 1985-2014 to a 3 or severe level in 2014-2017 within Belize’s coral reefs – it almost doubled in the span of just two years which shows just how serious this threat is. But it’s just one of the many stressors on coral reefs in Belize. In 2001, a hurricane hit southern Belize and caused a lot of damage on land – but there was even more devastation on the reefs. Laughing Bird Caye was almost totally destroyed – until Lisa Carne, founder of Fragments of Hope, had an idea while in San Pedro.

Lisa Carne

“I saw some broken Elkhorn or aquapora palmatta but still living and loose in the sand and sea grass. So, I thought, hmmm, what if we could just put these back would be able to reforest the reefs like they do on land?”

In 2006, they selected out plant and nursery sites.  Fragments of Hope was on a mission to reseed and replant coral sites to help the reef recover. They started here at Laughing Bird Caye where Lisa and her team found dying corals.

Lisa Carne

“When we came out here there was less than six percent live coral cover and there was only two elkhorn natural colonies around this caye and one natural patch of staghorn about this big. Iris and bleaching events and other disease events had killed off almost everything.”

This is what it looked like back in the early 2000’s – dead rubble everywhere. There’s still evidence of that massive coral die-off, but Fragments of Hope has done massive restoration work around the caye – with lots of success.

Lisa Carne

“One of the oldest sites from 2018 had over fifty-percent coral cover starting from less than six percent in 2010. So to give you reference, that is pretty fast; six and a half years forty-percent increase, right?”

And corals that Fragments of Hope planted are growing rapidly. They have monitored the growth of other corals on the reef – and the difference is astounding.

Lisa Carne

“In 2006, the average coral live cover was eleven percent and then last year 2018, which is twelve years later it had increased to only sixteen percent. So, by only five percent in about fourteen years and about forty percent in six and a half years – that gives you an idea of how quickly these corals are growing and what a difference we can make with some intervention.”

Growth rate varies for the corals – they grow faster in the southern part of Belize. Carne says that regional data shows that the corals planted in the Laughing Bird Caye sites are outgrowing those in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Florida. So far, Fragments of Hope has out planted over eighty thousand corals. They’ve planted a number of species – as well as cross species – these hybrids with a unique shape make for a great underwater attraction. There has been growing interesting in the hybrid corals because they may be more resilient to bleaching and they are tougher to be targeted by predators. But Fragments of Hope has been working with these corals, primarily in the shallow patches of the reef because they provide critical shoreline protection. A healthy reef also provides habitat for marine critters and supports tourism activities – all social and economic benefits for Belize. But these corals can only do so much.

Lisa Carne

“The coral restoration that we are doing here is no remedy for climate change. It is just a response that we came up with as a temporary band-aid to bring back the areas that we want to see them but if we don’t stop as a global entity to stop emitting all the things we are emitting, then it is just a temporary fix.”

Channel 5