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By Natalie Kikken , Lauren Hardiman 14 November 2022 3 min read

Over 1000 small coral islands with white sandy beaches and colourful reefs teeming with marine life. This is what makes up the idyllic nation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

But the Maldives is under threat from climate change. Over the last decade, increased sea surface temperatures have resulted in major coral bleaching events.  

We’ve been working with local partners to develop coral restoration methods to assist with reef recovery.  

A team effort to help coral recovery

Major coral bleaching in the Maldives has been recorded in 1998, 2016, 2017 and 2020. Live coral cover declined to as low as 2 per cent average cover. So, they need solutions to help with coral recovery.  

Our researchers recently travelled to the Maldives to help implement solutions. We used our experience with the Great Barrier Reef[Link will open in a new window] to implement tried and tested methods.

So, how do you help reefs recover from major disturbance events? Much like us humans and other members of the animal kingdom, it starts with a sperm and an egg.  

Spawning new research and knowledge

Corals release their sperm and eggs during coral spawning events[Link will open in a new window]. These events usually only happen a few times each year.  

We collect the coral spawn and culture it into coral larvae. Then, we release the larvae back onto areas of degraded reef where it will help re-establish corals.  

Before we release the larvae, they are settled onto tiles. We can also release the larvae directly onto the reef. But settling on tiles can help reduce losses of larvae. It also enables early detection of the tiny coral settlers, as they are less than 1 millimetre in size.

On the other hand, direct release of larvae (without the use of tiles) requires less handling and can be more easily scaled up. Both methods help to re-establish populations of coral reefs impacted by disturbances, to aid in long term recovery. 

Future proofing the Maldives reefs

Initially, our researchers delivered the training through a series of online workshops. The interactive sessions included making coral spawn catcher nets from recycled materials such as plastic bottles. Participants were from government, environmental consulting, tourism and education sectors. 

In addition to the online workshops, we rolled out hands-on training to tackle the challenges that locals are facing.  

We visited the remote island of Omadhoo to deliver a range of field and lab-based sessions. This included determining when corals are ready to spawn, coral identification and larval culturing.  

The team documented when the corals spawned and the precise locations. This information is vital in developing a better understanding of coral reproduction on local reefs in the Maldives.  

The training also used resources from the island. A facility normally used for fish aquaculture was repurposed to culture coral larvae before it could be settled onto the reef. 

Like many countries in the region, the Maldives relies on its coral reefs for sustaining local livelihoods. Its reefs are critical for coastal protection, as they reduce impacts from waves and storms which cause erosion. And they are also important for economic prosperity. The Maldives depends on the reefs for tourism, with the sector employing 58 per cent of the population. Also, 98 per cent of exports come from reef-associated fisheries.  

The workshops and training were the first of its kind. They have boosted the local community’s knowledge to implement actions on their islands and atolls to help in reef restoration. This aims to improve the prosperity of the Maldives and help build resilience in a changing climate.  

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This work is contributing to a five-year coral restoration program implemented by the Maldives Marine Research Institution (MMRI). It is also supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

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