In recent decades, climate change has intensified coral mortality and bleaching events, which are predicted to further increase in frequency and intensity. In Mauritius and Seychelles, coral reefs and their coastal and marine ecosystems have been threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by coastal development, overexploitation of fishery resources, destructive fishing practices, pollution, invasive alien species and recurrent bleaching events, particularly those that occurred in 1998, 2016 and 2018.
Beaches in Mauritius have shrunk by as much as 20 metres in recent decades due to rising sea levels and weakened coral ecosystems. The Government indicates that the resulting loss of tourism could cost over US$100 million per year by 2060 if no action is taken. In Seychelles, the nation’s marine ecosystems have been significantly impacted by chronic coastal erosion from increased demand for construction along the coasts, regular coastal flooding, the destruction of marine and coastal habitats, overfishing and other impacts.
Towards a Solution
In response to these challenges, the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) established a programme in 2008 to develop techniques for coral culture and small-scale reef rehabilitation. Successful implementation of this experimental phase has prompted MOI and other local partners, together with their Seychelles counterparts, to scale up the project to incorporate large-scale reef restoration in both countries.
To reduce the adverse impact of climate change on local communities and economic sectors dependent on coral reefs in Mauritius and Seychelles, the project entitled ‘Restoring Marine Ecosystem Services by Restoring Coral Reefs to Meet a Changing Climate Future’ aims to develop sustainable partnerships and community-based, business-driven approaches for reef restoration. It also seeks to establish coral farming and nursery facilities and actively restore degraded reefs. On a regional and international level, the project will improve understanding on the use of coral reef restoration as a tool for climate change adaptation, provide models for the sustainable management of reef ecosystems and build capacity for the long-term restoration and management of these precious habitats. The project directly addresses Sustainable Development Goal target 14.2, on sustainably managing, protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, and target 14.5, on conserving at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas.
The Governments of Mauritius and Seychelles have received a new US$10 million grant from the United Nations Development Programme Adaptation Fund to restore their reef ecosystems. The new six-year project will protect their growing tourism industries, which account for over 30 percent of their gross domestic product and employ approximately half of the population in both countries. It will also reduce risks from high-intensity storms and ensure food security for fishers who depend on the reefs to feed their families.
In Mauritius, the project’s objectives are to develop a sustainable partnership and community-based approach to reef restoration, establish coral farming and nursery facilities and actively restore degraded reefs. In Seychelles, the project aims to develop a sustainable partnership and business approach to reef restoration, establish coral farming and nursery facilities, actively restore degraded reefs, improve understanding and knowledge management on the use of coral reef restoration for climate change adaptation, share experiences learned in sustainable coral reef restoration at the regional and international level and provide training to build capacity for long-term, sustainable coral reef restoration.
The project also provides an opportunity for South-South exchange between the two countries. This will include knowledge-sharing on coral culture techniques. MOI will conduct site selection surveys, geographic information system mapping and water analyses and will identify heat-resistant coral genetics for its counterparts in Seychelles. In return, experts in Seychelles will train their Mauritian counterparts on techniques in microfragmentation and sexual propagation of corals. Finally, a genetic connectivity study between the two countries will also be undertaken. A Restoration Toolkit Manual will also be published at the end of the project, which can be used as a good practice manual to replicate the project in the Western Indian Ocean region.