Coral Reef Farming Scholarships
Reversing the tide on devastating reef loss
- On this Page:
- 1. What is Coral Reef Restoration?
- 2. Why am I Sponsoring Training in Coral Reef Restoration?
- 3. What Scholarships are Available?
- Future U.S. Scholarships
- (Click the images for a lightbox slideshow)
1. What is Coral Reef Restoration?
Coral farmers find polyp clusters that have survived ocean warming, divide them up, 'plant' them on heavy underwater structures, clean them, nourish them, and nurse diseased polyps back to health. A number of techniques accelerate coral growth, for example, electrical currents can increase the rate they grow 'shells.'
Coral farmers also raise and harvest sea horses, sea dragons, clams, oysters, and other species from coral nurseries. Aquarium owners are interested in returning the flora and fauna they have carefully grown to their native wild environments. In the future, it may become necessary to import corals from regions where they have already naturally evolved to live in warmer waters (the most heat-tolerant corals are in estuaries around the Persian Gulf).
I have started to sponsor coral farming scholarships in Thailand for learning reef restoration techniques for those interested in making it a career. With the extent of coral damage, some creative thinking could help, for example, ocean farms of fish and molluscs might grow coral in the same way as farmers grow trees around fields. But currently, there remains widespread denial of actually doing anything at all to start new coral nurseries in the USA, so starting any new coral nursery whatsoever in the Caribbean or Hawaii would be an absolute miracle at this time. The only places where some progress is being made are the Pacific Rim and Australia.
2. Why am I Sponsoring Training in Coral Reef Restoration?
While there are innumerable Web reports on the rapid death of coral reefs from Mauritius to Florida, active coral nurseries are shockingly absent worldwide. Moreover, while there is some active training of ooral farmers, I've only been able to find a mere five locations offering international certification in the newest and rapidly advancing techniques for replenishing the planet's coral resources. COVID hasn't helped. Three are currently still closed down. With the alarming rate of marine-life destruction, every month counts. So to kickstart critically needed growth in this arena, I am sponsoring scholarships in coral-reef restoration for college students, who hopefully will decide it's a fantastically rewarding career and create new coral-nursery training programs in the vast number of places that need them.
In the USA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ('NOAA') is in charge of coral monitoring and coral nurseries. NOAA's annual budget is slated at $6.5 billion this year. While it funds research by hundreds, if not thousands, of research scientists on the coral death in excruciating detail, there is no one in the entire organizaton to approve new coral nurseries or training of future professionals in it. There is no formal process for it, nor are there any personnel at NOAA with the written authority to create coral nurseries. All that exists is funding for more research on a well-known problem, and for corporations to stash oodles of corals in huge aquarium tanks on which they hope to make a profit at a future date, with the usual vague statements about how they will do something good for the environment that we are used to hearing far too often from oil companies. There are no actual steps businesses can take to improve the situation.
Charitable organizations in the USA frequently give armchair lectures on the plight of coral, yet I can find only eight coral nurseries in Florida, supported by volunteers at the Coral Reef Foundation, and that is virtually the only national effort. The two remaining coral nurseries I can find in the USA are in Hawaii, one sponsored by the University of Hawaii, and one by NOAA. NOAA's website makes a great deal of the fact that it is funding this coral nursery. As if it will make any difference. Both the Hawaiian nursers are ~10 feet on a side. NOAA granted $21.4 million for coral restoration in 2021 alone, but the link to its lab is 404 on its Website, and those minuscule patches are the only evidence of coral farming I can find.
Australia and the Pacific Rim have genuinely active and growing coral nurseries that are doing amazing work. Yet for all the extent of actual coral nurseries in the world altogether, it is akin to being proud of saving a dozen civilian lives after the blanket bombing of Dresden killed hundreds of thousands.
It's not as if there aren't people to do the work. Almost 2.7 million can scuba dive in the USA alone, and diving instructors frequently write me asking how they can expand their product offering. But there is no U.S. certification for training in coral nursery creation. Even in Thailand, which has the most training currently, trainees are forbidden to actually touch the coral by national law.
Due to the oceans warming far more rapidly than slow-growing coral can keep up by itself, over the entire planet's 110,000-square miles of coral, the planet has lost half its reefs since 1950. In Australia, the Great Barrer Reef has lost half its corals since 1995. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports a quarter of all marine life relies on coral reefs, including >4,000 Fish Species. With diminishing habitat, all species are under escalating threat of extinction. The death rate is quintuple that of 40 years ago, and 14% died in the last decade alone.
This horrific state of affairs is in total denial. We've learned how to cultivate the tiny numbers of coral polyps that survive when the reefs 'bleach' to death, but almost no one is doing it. The people are there. The resources are there. The need is uncontroversial. With >3 million North Americans able to scuba dive already, and the state of coral decline, there should be a hundred coral nurseries around the USA, not a mere dozen. And the USA has <2% of the world's corals. The USA should be creating an army of coral farmers, not pretending it's someone else's problem!
Lots of Universities offer visits to coral reefs for ecological research, and lots of tropical organizations are supported by them, so the infrastructure for the extensive needed work is there. But candidly, the existing University programs could rightfully be regarded as excuses for glorified tropical holidays, for all the actual remedies they've chosen to take on, in the face of undeniable disaster. They just don't provide any actual experience or put any effort into growing coral nurseries at all, despite the drastic need being deeply more obvious to them than anyone else. If we're to save the world's reefs, and by extension 25% of all marine life, this has to change!
3. What Scholarships are Available?
The first available scholarship pays 3 of 4 weeks of training during the Thailand's Summer college break, April->May. I will pay for all costs including room and board on an island in North East Thailand called Koh Tao, as well as training for advanced international diver certification (for depths up to 30m) for beginning divers. This is a recent decision so the application process is still informal.
Certificates are issued through Conservation Diver. Certificates include:
- Advanced Ecological Monitoring
- Coral Nursery Theory and Techniques
- Coral Spawning and Larval Culturing
- Coral Taxonomy and Identification
- Coral Predatars Poulation Monitoring and Management
- Coral Diseases and Compromised Health Monitoring
- Artificial Reef theory and techniques
- Mineral Accretion Device Basics and Techniques (using electricty to accelerate coral growth)
- Mooring Line Maintenance and Installation (for providing to national authorities approving new coral nurseries, to assure governments that moorings will not damage existing reefs during restoration work)
- Additional certificates on farming sea horses and clams
The course not only provides certificates that are perfect for student resumes, but also would enable participants to start new coral nurseries. Even if participants do not go on to work further on it, there is the immediate and long-term gratification of assisting in a reef’s recovery. Trainees will be able to visit it again when my age and see how well the underground gardens are growing. I did some similar restoration of natural reserves in the UK while there studying for Oxford University, and nothing in my later life has given me more pleasure than to visit and see the blossoming results of my childhood work. For myself, there is little I could leave as a legacy than to enable the same for others.
Thailand has a training center in coral reef restoration in Thailand (see photo and map) called 'New Heaven' that provides certificates in coral reef restoration. See this link for more information.
I have also started talks with training centers in Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. My alma mater, Stowe School (Bucks, UK) is offering coral farmer training to its students in its gap year, and I am in talks with Rhodes House to extend the program for Rhodes Scholars. And in the USA, I am waiting for information from the National Coral Research Institute on obtaining permission to start a new cural nursery.
I am not involved in the selection process, and it is still informal. There is no application form. The scholarship is intended for college students who need financial assistance and who might make coral reef restoration a career. Academic and athletic skills are also important, so those of higher income but other personal assets may win too.
Current applicants are advised to email New Heaven directly attaching information such as IDs verifying age and enrollment as a college student, transcripts, diving or other athletic certification, and proof of income (tax forms or bank statements), because many Thai students are very poor and will be applying too. Additionally, starting a coral reef invariably requires government approval for reasons that should be obvious, so any information or official papers you can supply on that will be greatly to your advantage.
Future U.S. Scholarships
Unfortunately the USA won't approve the new reef restoration tecnniques being developed overseas. NOAA told me the only way I could change that is to earn a PhD and apply for a grant from the NOAA.
Why is that, you may ask.
NOAA won't let anyone work on coral reefs unless they have a grant so that it maintains total control. While some definitely approve of Conservation Diver's techniques, they can't say so, because NOAA has given all US reef farmers grants and has them by the balls.
And there is no other training program in reef restoration available. So currently it is totally impossible for me to offer scholarships in the USA. Apologies
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