Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Fondly named ‘Divers’ Paradise’ by all who know it, Bonaire is a small island in the southern stretches of the Caribbean, a little north of Venezuela, a little east of Curacao. It is one of the islands that make up the ‘Caribbean Netherlands’, with the status of a special municipality of the Netherlands. It is a remarkable place for many reasons, much loved by divers not least because of its fringing coral reef which is wonderfully accessible, starting practically at the shoreline. Like coral reefs everywhere, they need protecting and restoring – and this is where Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire (RRFB) comes into the picture.
The information herein has been supplied by RRFB. Most of the photographs have been supplied by RRFB or are sourced from their website, where there is a wealth of information about their organization and projects. (Scubavox editor)
Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire is a non-profit organization working to protect and restore Bonaire’s coral reefs through an active, large-scale program. In operation since 2012, the foundation has recently celebrated an impressive 10 years of coral reef restoration.
developing new and innovative ways to restore reefs that are supported by research collaborations and shared worldwide,
training, engaging, and inspiring the community locally and internationally through volunteering, educational events, and outreach, and
demonstrating that through community efforts there is still hope for coral reefs.
THE PROGRAM: key facts and statistics:
RRFB’s reef restoration program involves large-scale propagation and outplanting of threatened coral species using two techniques – fragmentation and larval propagation:
In fragmentation, RRFB grows corals in nearshore, field-based coral nurseries and then outplants them onto degraded reef sites around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire.
In total, RRFB’s nursery system consists of eleven coral nurseries with over
135 coral nursery structures, or “trees”, as in the photos above.
This means they can grow over 15,000 corals at any given time.
In larval propagation, using tools and protocols developed by SECORE International, RRFB collects gamete bundles from spawning coral colonies, assists with fertilization and settlement of coral larvae on ceramic substrates, and then outplants them onto restoration sites around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire.
Collecting the gamete bundles The CRIB (Coral Rearing In Situ Basins)
In the nurseries, RRFB currently works with five coral species, representing 74 genotypes, to work towards increasing the resiliency of reefs by focusing on genetic and species diversity.
Since 2013, RRFB has outplanted more than 40,000 corals back onto Bonaire’s reefs, restoring almost one hectare (~9,500m2) of degraded reefs. In 2021 alone, this number stood at more than 7,500 corals.
Staghorn corals outplanted at Tori's Reef, Bonaire (Scubavox photograph)
Many of these corals have grown into thriving colonies that are able to spawn, kick-starting the reef’s natural process of recovery. To date, RRFB has observed spawning of outplanted colonies at three restoration sites on the island.
Since 2013, more than 1,400 divers (residents, tourists, researchers, interns, and local youth) have been trained by the Foundation and its nine Dive Shop Members.
RRFB monitors the outplanted corals for survival, health, and growth for at least a year, and utilizes this data to evaluate techniques and inform future efforts.
THE CORAL SPECIES involved:
RRFB currently propagates two critically endangered branching coral species – Acropora cervicornis (staghorn coral) and Acropora palmata (elkhorn coral). In the nurseries, these corals can grow from a finger-sized fragment into an outplantable size in about nine months.
Staghorn coral Elkhorn coral
In 2019, RRFB began propagating three boulder coral species – Orbicella annularis (lobed star coral), Orbicella faveolata (mountainous star coral), and Montastraea cavernosa (great star coral). The two Orbicella species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as “Endangered”.
Lobed star coral Mountainous star coral Great star coral
Larval propagation allows RRFB to work across a wide range of coral species and morphologies. RRFB larval propagation efforts currently focus on two brain coral species – Diploria labyrinthiformis (grooved brain coral) and Colpophyllia natans (boulder brain coral).
THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE COMMUNITY
Both local and international communities are engaged in the restoration program through hands-on training, volunteer and internship opportunities, educational programs, and outreach events, all geared to inspire action and create a better future for coral reefs.
To date, there are nine local dive operators that that support RRFB, getting locals and tourists educated and involved in reef restoration. RRFB has set up a recreational dive program model in which local Dive Shop Members serve as community ambassadors for RRFB’s restoration program. These dive operators maintain their own nurseries and active restoration sites and act as training centers by offering the Reef Renewal Diver specialty and the Discover Reef Renewal dive experience.
CONTACT AND OTHER INFORMATION:
• Website: https://reefrenewalbonaire.org/
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReefRenewalBonaire/
• Instagram: @ReefRenewalBonaire
Scubavox Editor’s note:
There are many ways in which you too can become part of the community that supports the work of RRFB, as a diver and as a non-diver. Check their website for the options, from donations to adoptions to speciality training, right down to supplying the everyday DIY style items on their wishlist – you might be surprised by what is involved in coral housekeeping!