introduction to reef first aid
Reef First Aid activities are part of our effort towards the restoration of the local coral reefs. Along with our coral propagation program, we hope that this initiative will help increase the resilience of our local reefs in order to better recover after accidental damage, or possible bleaching events.
By employing reef First Aid techniques, divers and snorkelers can help damaged coral recover, without the use of any tool, and at any time.
Reef First Aid activities tackle a number of damaging issues such as:
– Broken coral fragments
– Toppled over coral colonies
– Discarded Fishing equipment
Broken pieces of coral can be gathered and plugged on cracks and holes on the reef during your excursion.
The key point of this activity is finding the right location for each fragment. Since in the vast majority of cases the fragments will not be held in place through the use of any bonding agent, it is imperative to find a crack or hole where the fragment will fit perfectly, and where it will not be displaced by the natural water movement.
Plate corals usually fit nicely in cracks, while branching corals are more likely to be stable inside a hole.
When looking for these locations, avoid areas that are heavily overgrown with algae or sponges, areas that are already dense with other corals, and places where other organisms such as worms or burrowing mollusks are already settled.
If plugged correctly and undisturbed, the plugged fragment will grow and reattach itself to the substrate within a few weeks, and develop into a new entire coral colony.
It is unfortunately also relatively common to find entire colonies that have been broken off the reef and that have toppled over to the ground. This usually happens as a result of boat anchoring, netting, or line fishing.
When on a sandy bottom and/or upside down, coral colonies are no longer facing the sunlight, and are often partially or completely covered in sand. If left unattended, it is likely that large portions, if not the whole colony will perish due to incorrect positioning and excessive sediment.
When a diver or snorkeler finds a toppled over colony, they can intervene by repositioning the colony upwards, and by finding a location on the reef where it is relatively stable, and where it can reattach itself to a sturdy substrate.
It is important to mention that not all toppled over colonies should be immediately straightened though. If a colony has been upside down for a prolonged period of time and has survived until then, it is very likely that the polyps have already started growing towards the sunlight, and that by flipping over the colony once again we would be delaying the healing process even more.
To identify such a circumstance, you should be looking out for a rough top surface with polyps growing towards the light. If this is the case, it is better not to flip the colony, and to simply stabilize it by adding pieces of uncolonized substrate under and around it.
If the surface of the colony looks smooth instead, proceed with flipping the colony over and stabilizing it in the same way.
Lastly, during your excursions you might encounter mushroom corals. These are a specific type of coral which does not attach itself to a substrate during its adult lifetime, and is therefore very prone to be flipped over by water movement. While mushroom corals are capable of straightening themselves over time, this does require a noticeable investment of energy, and it is sometimes impossible because of a number of reasons such as being stuck under a rock or another coral.
Upside down mushroom corals are very common, and it is therefore unrealistic to ask anyone to straighten every mushroom coral they find, but if you find one in a particularly bad spot, or that seems to be stuck or covered in sand, you can help it by straightening it manually.
Discarded fishing equipment is unfortunately another very common occurrence on our local reefs. While the precise method to remove each type of material may vary slightly, the following general thoughts always apply:
- Be delicate, take your time, and never yank or pull.
- Use the cutting tools at your disposal sparingly. Cutting something into many little pieces often does more bad than good.
- Fishing equipment that is heavily overgrown and does not pose a threat to marine life might be better left untouched.
Always discuss about your plan of action with your dive leader and decide what the best thing to do is.
All sorts of trash can be found underwater. While in the vast majority of cases it is always a good idea to collect and remove it, there are a few cases in which it might be more beneficial to leave it where it is.
Overgrown inert materials for example, do not always need to be removed. Glass or metal are not toxic nor damaging to the reef, and if there are organisms already growing on top of them it might be better to leave them where they are. In some rare circumstances, this may also extend to other materials such as plastic (such as in the picture below).
When in doubt, always discuss about your plan of action with your dive leader and decide what the best thing to do is.