This coral “gardener” in Kenya is helping to restore an ecosystem that has been destroyed by global warming

Marine biologist Rosalie Bailie graduated from college at the start of the pandemic. Since October last year she has been working with a Dutch NGO, REEFolution Coral restoration in Diani, Kenya.

Reefs around the world are at risk of decimation from bleaching as sea temperatures rise.

“This heat in the water causes the corals to get sick and panic, and they drive away the little algae that live in it,” says Bailie.

They then fade, turn white, and essentially leave behind a skeleton. If the algae don’t return in time, they will die and these ecosystems will recover incredibly slowly. These tiny organisms live in symbiosis with the corals and provide them with 90 percent of their energy.

“Indirectly coral reefs, although they actually occupy 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, 25 percent of all marine life will spend part of their life on these coral reefs,” she adds.

Many coastal communities rely on these marine ecosystems as a source of food, work and income from tourism. They also offer protection by breaking down wave energy from storms or even tsunamis.

How do you “garden” a coral reef?

In 1998 there was a mass bleaching off the coast of East Africa that hit Kenya’s reefs hard. The region lost 66 to 80 percent of its coral.

Bailie works on a project to set up a new restaurant in Diani. Together with her team, she “gardens” fragments that naturally break off from corals when there are strong waves, or animals such as turtles that rub against the reef.

“If it’s just in the rubble, it gets covered in sand and suffocated, and it has really little chance of survival,” she explains.

“So we go diving and take a big box and collect all these little bits that come off and hang them up in a child’s room.”

Baby corals are hung in a nursery that looks like the branches of a tree. After six to nine months, they will be large and strong enough to be planted out.

To increase their chances of survival, the REEFolution team uses artificial reefs made from recycled glass bottles. By increasing the biodiversity of the seabed, they are helping Kenya’s coastal regions to withstand the effects of global warming.

Check out the video above to learn more about the work of Rosalie Bailie.

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