20 years ago, Bali Aquarium was the first company to start commercial mariculture in Indonesia and 3 years ago, it created its own reef restoration and reef education program, called Ocean Gardener (www.oceangardener.org). Since then, they have put the tremendous knowledge they acquired, farming corals with many different locations, environment, hundreds of species towards reef restoration purposes.
Coming from a background in coral mariculture, Bali Aquarium likes to set up coral nurseries first to produce the fragments that will be later planted back on the reef. This practice eliminates the need for constant trimming of healthy corals to restore damaged reefs. This reef restoration effort has developed new planting methods that are taught to local peoples, but one new technique has become particularly promising.
The concept of ‘micro-fragmentation’ is a word that’s been thrown around by very proud researchers to describe a technique that’s been used by literally millions of aquarists, over decades of reef keeping. Until now the techniques of micro fragmentation or micro propagation was only possible in inland farm, and very controlled aquarium conditions.
It was very difficult to do Micro-fragmentation in situ directly in the ocean, as too many algae, sponges, fish, parasites would overgrow, eat, kill the coral before it even recovers from the fragmentation process.
Micro-fragmentation is the process of fragmenting pieces of corals to the size of just a few polyps. Once the micro fragments are put back in the ocean, because they concentrate all their energy into growing, they grow much faster than mature colonies that will concentrate part of their energy into the competition, sexual reproduction… Some studies claim 25 to 50 times faster than natural corals.
It took a bit of ‘outside the box’ thinking to come up with the right technique that would eliminate most predators but to be honest the results were beyond expectations. And within a few months, corals are healthy, even though Bali has been experiencing 30+ C seawater temperature for almost 10 months now.
A new chapter for the whole coral industry:
So far only a few genus have been tried, including some LPS such as Dipsastrea, Leptastrea, Acantastrea… and some SPS such as Porites, Montipora, Hydnophora, Cyphastrea, Pavona. But using micro-fragmentation, mariculture operation could actually grow many slower growing species much faster and in much greater quantities; It just needs to be scaled up. A long work process with the fisheries department needs to be put in place to regulate this new technique and allow the production of corals to be shipped out.
This is more evidence that we have only scratched the surface of what is possible through intensive mariculture of corals. This restoration potential has been explored, and there are still a lot to work to do, so that fewer corals are extracted from the ocean for our hobby. This is also a great example, that our hobby has an important role to play in actually helping to restore reefs.
Bali Aquarium, is a member of KPKHN, the Indonesian Coral Mariculture Association.If you want to help with their restoration efforts, please go to the official Ocean Gardener website.