- Feb 27, 2023
- Coastal Health
Closing our eyes we can imagine walking along the beach with bare feet, feeling the sand, the breeze that caresses us, the sun that fills us with energy and the waves that come and go refreshing our feet and connecting us with the ocean. Suddenly our feet run into something that looks like a rock with a peculiar texture. It is the fossilized skeleton of a coral, formed millions of years ago by these animals through the deposition of calcium carbonate. This process is responsible for coral growth, giving rise to coral reefs. Reef formation is a very slow process that can take up to 10,000 years from the time the corals are in the larval stage. The first coral reefs date back some 500 million years, and we are witnessing their disappearance at an unprecedented rate. Threats to coral reefs act at both local and global scales and include ocean warming, acidification, overfishing, pollution, sedimentation and excess nutrients, among others.
Reefs protect our coasts from wave action and hurricanes, and their associated biodiversity sustains the rest of the ocean and the services we obtain from it (fishery resources, medicines, livelihoods, recreational activities, etc.) In addition, they are responsible for the formation of tropical beaches. One day, the erosion of that skeleton that we found, like that of other organisms with skeletons or shells of calcium carbonate, will give rise to the sand that we walk on today.
A large part of the Iberostar properties are facing the Caribbean basin. This means a significant number of reefs protecting and providing direct benefits to our hotels and the communities in which they are located. That is why ensuring coral reef protection, resilience, and restoration are a major part of Iberostar’s Wave of Change movement strategy to improve ecosystem health and profitable tourism by 2030. Wave of Change reef restoration strategy aims at restoring reefs that value coastal protection first through coral outplanting in front of our properties, before then focusing on increasing fish biomass (important for local food security), and lastly focusing on restoring biodiversity on reefs adjacent to Iberostar hotels.
To carry out this objective, the Iberostar Coastal Health team has established four underwater coral nurseries (more in process) in three Caribbean destinations. In these nurseries the populations of various coral species are cared for and grown for later transplantation in the adjacent reefs. Although it may seem simple, the science of restoration is still understudied, as there are a great number of factors involved in this entire process. These factors can be environmental (water currents, temperature, sedimentation, etc.) or biological (predation, competition between species, genetics, associations with microorganisms, etc.) For this reason, our restoration program is based on both existing scientific knowledge and experimental data obtained by the internal scientific team.
An example of these experiments is the search for corals potentially more resistant to ocean warming from each location where we carry out the restoration. The reason for this search is to be able to accelerate the natural selection that exists in our reefs, and to be able to restore them with corals that better tolerate temperature stress. This will lead to improving the resilience of the restored areas and increasing their survival rate in the face of climate change. In addition, we want to boost overall ecosystem resilience by promoting species diversity and genetic diversity in the reefs where we work. In order to do so, multiple species are included in coral nurseries and genetic studies are carried out.
Conserving coral reefs is of the utmost importance for the rest of the marine and coastal ecosystems and, in turn, for our communities. At Iberostar we continue to work every day to promote these efforts and create a real impact for the well-being of our oceans, people and businesses.