Recognizing the environmental and economic value of healthy coral reefs, and the dangers posed by warmer oceans and more intense hurricanes, a group of tourism-focused organizations have joined forces to help protect and regenerate Caribbean reefs.
The nonprofit Tourism Cares, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and the Grupo Puntacana Foundation in the Dominican Republic have partnered on a Coral Restoration Capacity Building Project to assist three Caribbean destinations which suffered serious reef damage from the devastating storms of 2017.
Two individuals each from Dominica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands recently spent a week in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, completing a Coral First Aid Certification training program. Additional individuals from the affected territories will now be trained by these graduates to assist with major restoration efforts.
Marine scientists have confirmed that coral reefs, which make up only one percent of the ocean floor but support 25 percent of marine life, have declined in the Caribbean by as much as 50 to 80 percent in 30 years.
“CHTA, through our affiliate Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), has a longstanding working relationship with the Grupo Puntacana Foundation and we’re delighted to be able to draw upon the Foundation’s expertise to provide this training,” said Frank Comito, CHTA’s CEO and director general.
The Grupo Puntacana Foundation’s President Frank Rainieri was a founder of CAST and served as its first Chairman in 1997. The Foundation, with its own Center for Marine Innovation, has more than 14 years of experience in coral restoration. Having one of the largest coral nurseries in the Caribbean positions it as a leading coral gardening training institution.
“We have an environmental responsibility to regenerate these natural treasures because without reefs, there would be fewer beautiful beaches and without our beaches fewer tourists would visit, so coral gardening is both an ecological imperative as well as a significant economic driver for our region,” Comito stated.
Jake Kheel, vice president for the Grupo Punta Cana’s Corporate Environmental Programs, noted that the Foundation is “pleased to have this opportunity to share with our Caribbean colleagues best practice techniques for reef restoration”. He asserted that in addition to the regional environmental and economic impact of coral reefs, they also play a key role in the global ecosystem.
Paula Vlamings, CEO of Tourism Cares, believes this “smart partnership” between major organizations is crucial for hurricane impacted destinations: “We thank all the supporters of the Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund who made the sharing of resources possible.”
Argel Horton and Emily Graff (British Virgin Islands); Augustus Bernard and Donna Mitchell (Dominica); and Logan Michelle and Jason Quetel (US Virgin Islands) took part in the training program.
While in the Dominican Republic, the participants interacted with world expert in coral restoration Dr David Vaughan, who is from the Mote Marine Laboratory in the Florida Keys. Vaughan instructed participants on a new methodology of coral restoration known as micro-fragmentation, which he developed to reverse coral degradation through its rapid regeneration and transplanting onto dead reefs.
Upon completion of the Coral First Aid Certification these graduates are now able to, among other skills, identify, construct and prepare at least two different types of nursery propagation platforms; set up new nurseries; properly attach coral fragments for propagation; perform regular maintenance; collect performance data using established standardized procedures; and properly harvest and transport coral fragments and colonies.