Japan goes for a coral transplant
15 Apr 2009, 2358 hrs IST,
Martin Fackler, NYT News Service

SEKISEI LAGOON: Beneath the waves of this sapphire-blue corner of the East China Sea, a team of divers was busily at work.
Hovering along the
steep face of a coral reef, some divers bored holes into the surface with compressed-air drills that released plumes of glittering bubbles. Others followed, gently inserting small ceramic discs into the fresh openings.

Each disc carried a tiny sliver of hope for the reef, in the shape of fingertip-size sprigs of brightly colored, fledgling coral. This undersea work site is part of a government-led effort to save Japan’s largest coral reef, near the southern end of the Okinawa chain of islands. True to form in Japan, the project involves new technology, painstaking attention to detail and a generous dose of taxpayer money.

The project has drawn national attention, coming after alarming reports in the last decade that up to 90% of the coral that surrounds many of Okinawa’s islands has died off. The result has been what marine biologists call one of the largest coral restoration projects in the world, begun four years ago. The goal, say biologists, is to perfect methods that could be used around the world to rescue reefs endangered by overfishing, pollution and global warming.