The coral reefs in the Maldives, at least where we were stayed at Kurumba, are generally healthy. They have more kinds of fish swimming around than the number of STDs we assume Charlie Sheen has flowing through his tiger blood. OK, there probably aren’t that many kinds of fish but you get the idea.
However, changing ocean temperatures and a combination of naturally occurring and human-caused factors are bleaching and killing coral reefs all over the globe. It is not simply a case of reefs getting carried away with tooth whitening strips; they’re turning white because they’re dead.
As avid snorkelers we don’t want to see our playgrounds being destroyed so were intrigued to learn that Kurumba has a program to help regenerate coral that is dying. It’s something they give guests a chance to participate in so we signed up.
Mady, one of our favorite men from the team that led the snorkeling outings, met with 6 of us to explain the process of creating new reefs. As per our normal behavior Blonde didn’t listen very well to the instructions and Brunette worried that she would kill live coral by mistake so we didn’t start well. Luckily Mady has seen it all with well-intentioned, vaguely-comprehending guests and gave a demo for us when we got to the ocean.
Two weeks to ten days before our outing the team at Kurumba had used Rebar to form the basis for the new coral reef we would be creating. The Rebar is sprayed with fabric glue and then coated in sand. It dries and they repeat the process several times until there’s enough sand sticking to the form. (Sort of like Blonde applying her makeup.)
The next step is to have bumbling people like us don our fins and masks and swim around a small area and find and retrieve pieces of broken coral that are dying. If the coral is completely white then it’s too late for it (one of the few times being white doesn’t make life easier but actually makes it impossible). Those that still have some brown or blue will die soon without some intervention. Mady retrieved some samples of what we should be looking for and we set out to identify and collect similar pieces.
Most of us did that but Brunette mostly swam around with concern for harming the coral. Finally she overcame her hesitancy and pulled a piece out of the water. To her horror a woman on the beach, who had no idea what we were all doing, was looking in shocked amazement at Brunette ripping coral off the sea floor. Brunette rushed over to explain the legitimacy of her activity and the woman and her husband then joined our group.
Eventually our United Colors of Benetton collection of Bulgarians, an Aussie, Sri Lankans, Japanese and Americans produced an adequate basket of salvageable coral. Mady showed us how to attach it to the Rebar using plastic ties. Blonde hasn’t done any actual work in so long that she managed to tie about three pieces on to everyone else’s ten but hers were really cute.
It will take years for our creation to become a fully grown-up reef – maybe 5 or 10 years – but Kurumba already has some that at 5 years are thriving.
After all of the pieces were attached, Mady checked our work and cut the extra plastic from the ties. He then swam the new coral reef for the Maldives out to the ocean floor.
Kurumba’s program has two features that we really liked (besides the whole saving coral reefs thing). They send you a certificate as a coral rescuer or some other dubious credential that we each plan to add to our LinkedIn profiles. More thrillingly they email you a photo update of “your” reef every 6 months. So at least every 6 months we’ll remember that we once did something useful on one of our trips. (Update: They didn’t actually do that. We hope that wasn’t because ours died and they didn’t want to tell us.)