Our Big Project to Help Save the Sea Turtles
We Partnered with the Gili Eco Trust
While in Bali, the PIYOGA team connected with the Gili Eco Trust, a trusted non-profit conservation organization, to help re-grow the coral reefs, which the sea turtles so heavily rely on to survive. The Gili Eco Trust works primarily on projects on Gili Trawangan, a small island, since much of the coral reef had previously been destroyed from unsustainable fishing techniques, such as dynamite fishing and anchoring on to the reef.
A green sea turtle rests, defeated, among destroyed a flattened and destroyed coral reef off the shores of Gili Trawangan, an island off Bali, Indonesia.
We chose to partner with the Gili Eco Trust, a local non-profit organization committed to coral reef restoration, waste management, sustainable tourism, environmental education and animal welfare on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia. The Gili Eco Trust focuses on conservation, preservation, education, and restoration of the Gili Matra Marine Protected Area. I’ve seen hands on the eco projects they’re worked on and was excited to start working with them on our own conservation project. The Gili Eco Trust is well know around the area and if you have ever been to the Gilis, you may have noticed that you are required to an ocean entrance fee to snorkel or dive in the ocean. That money goes directly to the Gili Eco Trust to help support conservation efforts in the area to maintain and encourage a sustainable experience for locals, tourists and marine life.
A healthy coral reef is bright, vibrant, colorful and full of life. You'll see hard and soft coral surrounded by tiny fish, big fish, octopus hiding in small crevices, eels hiding in their coral caves, white tip reef sharks hiding between the sand and the coral and sea turtles soaring above or resting in their coral nest.
I first discovered the Gili Eco Trust when I did my Advanced Diving Certification in Gili Trawangan in March of 2016. It was there that I swam with a sea turtle for my very first time! While doing the course, I became more aware of all the ways the Gili Eco Trust was helping to protect the ocean on shore and in the ocean. After attending a beach cleanup when them, I became curious as to how I could help out more. I made connections with the women involved and the next time I was on the island I came with the intention to do a bio-rock build with PIYOGA. A bio-rock is a man-made steel structure that can help the coral reef regrow 8x stronger and 8x faster. Coral reefs foster a healthy home for sea turtles, as much of what they eat grows or lives around the reef and the reef provides shelter for the turtles while they rest.
If you are unfamiliar with all the ocean jargon, you may be wondering, what is a coral reef, and why is it important. A coral reef is super important for many reasons. The main reason is that the coral reef is a major source of nutrients and food for all the fish, animals and sea creatures under the sea! Coral reefs are a valuable ecosystem and support more than 4,000 species of fish, growth of over 800 unique species of coral and bigger animals in the food chain like sea turtles and sharks. Interestingly enough, the biodiversity of coral reefs contains millions of undiscovered organisms which have been the key to recent medical advances including curing cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases. ( ">National Ocean Service)
A coral reef that stretches across a shore line for a long distance is called a barrier reef. A barrier reef is also super important to protect the island/land and humans from natural disasters. The reason why a barrier reef is so important is also to protect the island or shoreline! A barrier reef is a long stretch of coral reef that surrounds the island or shoreline to protect the land from giant ocean waves that come, which could erode away the shore. A barrier reef breaks up the strong ocean waves, or currents and changes the structure of the wave, so that when the wave hits shore, the damage is not so catastrophic.
For example, in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef protects the island of Australia from cyclones that approach the shore because the reef reduces the impact of the cyclone before it reaches shore. Another example is Florida. Florida’s barrier reef protects Florida from hurricanes that original due to a mix of weather conditions and water temperatures off shore. When the hurricane gets closer to land it is essential that the barrier reef is strong and healthy so it will be able to slow down the speed of the storm, change the structure of the waves to make them smaller, and reduce the intensity of the hurricane.
Despite their great economic and sustainable value, coral reefs are severely threatened by pollution, disease and habitat destruction. Once coral reefs are damaged, they are less able to support the many creatures that inhabit them and the communities near them. When a coral reef supports fewer fish, plants, and animals, it also loses value as a tourist destination.
So, when we arrived on Gili Trawangan, we were super excited to get started with the conservation project. We met with Delphine, a well experienced coral reef restoration expert and our bio-rock facilitator for the project. She educated us about the importance of the bio-rock structure, how it was to be installed, how it worked and what we needed to do to make sure it was installed properly. I was also delighted to learn that there were already over 100 of the bio-rocks previously created and installed along the reef ridge, connecting to create a barrier reef! It was heartwarming to see that so many other took interest in building a bio-rock to help protect the reef, too.
Getting started, we took to work bending, molding, and sawdering steel bars to create a structural frame for the bio-sock.
After assembling the steel structure, it was ready to take it into the ocean. We suited up in our diving gear, preparing to take the structure under water where the reef had previously been destroyed.
Getting into the water with a giant steel structure was much harder than expected since the current was very strong that day! Instead of floating into the water, we had to walk in from the shore line. It took all six of us to handle the structure with control under water! Once we got deep enough, we swam the rest of the way against the current to our desired destination. We then gently lowered the structure. Normally when diving you only have 40-60 minutes of air in your tank. However, given that we were doing an activity under water that required a higher intake of oxygen, our time was limited under water so we had to act fast to fully assemble the structure.
We set up the bio-rock by the other bio-rocks to add to the artificial reef. A stand alone structure would not be as much help, but adding on the reef ensured the ocean would benefits in more ways that a stand alone bio-rock. Once the structure was secured, we began attaching bits of live coral that had previously been severed from the surrounding reefs to the bio-rock with zip ties. We attached as much of the live coral as possible. Later, a single-electric current would be set up to be wired to the bio-rock, which would cause a calcium carbonate bond on the outside of the steel structure, thus connecting the coral and reinforcing the skeletal structure of the bio rock. Below, you are see the progress of the bio-rock over a year. You can see how the steel bars get covered with a very thick layer of calcium carbonate and how that feeds the coral that was attached to help to grow stronger. Over the years, the coral will continue to grow stronger and stronger until you can no longer see the steel at all!
Since installing our bio-rock in Gili Trawangan, the bio-rock has been home to hundreds of fish. A turtle was even spotted hanging out in the cavern that was created by the arches!
A bio-rock is a great way to preserve a coral reef, but nothing compares when it comes to protecting the reefs that we currently have. Each of us can help make a difference every time we enter the ocean. See our blog Why the Sun Block You are Wearing is Destroying the Ocean for tips on how you can do your part to protect the reefs!
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the PIYOGA efforts to save the sea turtles. If you enjoyed reading this blog, please share it with your friends and family! Education is super important when it comes to conservation.