- Feb 27, 2023
- Coastal Health
Coral reefs are geological structures that form the underwater relief. They are built by living “coral” organisms that thrive in tropical and subtropical areas. These corals are incredible animals that build huge underwater “cities” and offer a large number of habitats for the settlement of various organisms. Coral reefs constitute the vital area of refuge or reproduction of thousands of species, making it a powerful tourist attraction of significant value and demand around the world. Additionally, they provide food and therefore food security for hundreds of millions of people on the planet.
These ecosystems function as beach-forming structures and act as breakwater barriers, slowing down erosive processes on exposed coastal strips, protecting us against hurricanes and storms.
In the marine environment, they are considered the most species-rich ecosystems, which places them in second place in the world after the tropical rainforest. Tropical rainforests have a greater number of species (due to insects and flowering plants), but reefs are home to a greater diversity of kingdoms and rank.
However, in recent decades, coral reefs have undergone a series of changes in their structure and the functions they perform, as well as loss of ecological, economic and social services.
These changes are associated with global climate change and in particular with extreme temperatures, which has led to coral bleaching, greater susceptibility to disease, increased frequency and intensity of storms and hurricanes as well as ocean acidification.
The rehabilitation of these degraded reefs has created great challenges for local communities, researchers, authorities and governments.
In the last 20 years, active reef restoration (through human intervention) has increased worldwide to mitigate the decline in coral cover. The propagation of corals for restoration is now considered an essential component of coral reef conservation and management plans.
Research and restoration techniques can be used to accelerate the recovery of impacted reefs, supporting their natural processes. However, solutions for coral conservation must be multivariate and incorporate a comprehensive understanding of the complex biology and ecology of corals and coral reefs. The implementation of restoration programs in the daily management of reefs could become a fundamentally useful tool to mitigate the synergistic effects of global change and anthropogenic impacts on coral reefs.
Iberostar, through its pioneering Wave of Change movement, has taken leadership in the private sector through its own team of researchers making efforts for the protection and recovery of coral species that have experienced drastic declines in the Caribbean region.
In addition to the efforts started in 2018 in the Dominican Republic, in 2020 we were able to scale our coral restoration program, installing two nurseries under the Caribbean Sea in Mexico located in the Riviera Maya and Cozumel. Our coral nurseries are part of a research project focused on restoration. We have identified the coral species and the ideal sites to develop these strategies in the area of influence around our hotels. We started the two multi-species nurseries in the Mexican Caribbean with 9 coral species in each of our nurseries. We work on the recovery of coral and fish communities in a multidisciplinary effort framed within the Iberostar-CINVESTAV alliance and with the logistical support of Dressel Divers. Our nurseries, in addition to being a research and education platform, are fulfilling their function as a genetic reservoir, where we managed to rescue, protect and stabilize hundreds of coral colonies that broke and fell from the reef onto the sand after the passage of tropical storm Cristobal and Zeta as well as hurricanes Gamma and Delta during 2020 and 2021. We currently have 14 species of corals that we are protecting and growing in the nurseries and once stabilized, these colonies will return to the reef in what is called a transplant phase.
As storms and hurricanes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, they increase stress and impact reef health. It is increasingly important to carry out restoration projects with a strong scientific foundation that help reefs face challenges amplified by climate change.
Our coastal health team works to rescue the connectivity between marine-coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, sea grasses, mangroves and dunes that protect us and are the first line of defense against the onslaught of storms and hurricanes like the ones we have had in the Yucatan peninsula. We continue to investigate how to rescue the structures that still remain on the reefs and continue to seek innovative and bold solutions to increase local biodiversity on the reefs where we work.
We are doing tests to implement the most efficient techniques for restocking in each of these destinations. By doing this, we will increase resilience in our communities while enhancing our customer experiences.
This project, led by Iberostar Group, represents a unique and novel participation of the private sector, and more specifically of the tourism industry, in restoration efforts in Latin America, where it seeks to make tourists aware of the importance of these ecosystems.