Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Aug 12 2022
Kyeema Foundation Piloting Coral Reef Restoration Project

In November of 2021, the government of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the World Wildlife Foundation announced a new nature-based solutions program to tackle climate change in the Indo-Pacific. As part of the program, Climate Resilient by Nature, the organisations launched a challenge calling for Australian international development NGOs and partners in the Pacific to pilot and expand promising nature-based solutions led by communities.

Kyeema Foundation, a Palladium partner, was chosen as one of the first five organisations to receive funding to begin their work. The project, launched in June 2022, is focused on community-led coral reef restoration in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Kyeema and key partner Corals for Conservation (C4C) are supporting young indigenous marine scientists and community leaders from each of those countries to restore compromised reef ecosystems and linked mangrove habitats and maintain the many ways the ecosystem provides for their communities.

Dr Eliza Smith, Kyeema’s Technical Manager and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead explains that Kyeema has been working with C4C since 2016. “Today, we are working together to develop community- driven coral gardening as an emergency response to mass coral bleaching.”

“This is a progression of our partnership with C4C, initially working with them to develop native chicken production in Fiji as an alternative source of protein to fish - relieving pressure on the coral reef ecosystems they are supporting communities to save and restore,” Smith adds.

The initial project was funded through Palladium’s ‘Our Communities’ grant, which used local resources to improve breeding and feeding of native chickens in Fiji, making them more accessible to the families that depend on them.
Coastal communities in Pacific Island countries are reliant on reef ecosystems not just for their economies and food security but for the protection they offer.

As reefs and their mangrove systems, which stabilise shorelines, remove pollutants, and improve water quality for reefs, are compromised nearby communities are more vulnerable to climate-related shocks like marine heat waves, rising sea levels, storm surges, and coastal erosion.

Similarly, as waters warm due to climate change, corals expel the algae that gives them their bright colours and causes them to turn white – also known as coral bleaching. If the water temperatures stay high enough, the coral won’t allow the algae back in and the coral will die. Once corals die, it’s rare for a reef to survive or come back. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, between 2014 and 2017, nearly 75% of the world’s tropical coral reefs experienced heat stress severe enough to trigger bleaching.

But not all hope is lost.

As part of Kyeema’s project, indigenous scientists will identify and save more thermotolerant coral species and genotypes, also known as super corals, from inner reef ‘hot-pockets’ and cultivate coral nurseries for reintroduction to local outer cooler reef systems to help maintain biodiversity and accelerate the natural adaptive processes to climate change.

Additionally, the project will assist community leaders in Fiji and Papua New Guinea to improve native chicken production in communities to reduce the pressure of overfishing and destructive fishing practices on connected reef habitats. Dr Smith explains that this will serve to provide an alternative livelihood and immediate source of food and nutrition security. “This is a critical need across the Pacific where apart from local coastal seafood sources, there is a high reliance on imported foods and a double burden of malnutrition, in which high rates of child stunting exist together with high rates of adult obesity.”

Communities will also be supported to replant mangrove forests based on traditional knowledge of where they once grew along their coastlines. This will cultivate long term security of fish stocks by ensuring their breeding habitats are restored and maintained.

The project will run for a year, during which Kyeema and C4C will support a network of ‘Coral Reef Champions’ and drive working relationships with key government and private stakeholders. The team is hopeful that the social and environmental impacts of this systems approach to coral reef restoration as a nature-based solution will inform a wider body of work for people across the Pacific building community resilience in a climate-uncertain future.

If you are interested in finding out more about locally managed marine area restoration or want to get involved, reach out to Eliza Smith or Anthony Carrigan at kyeema@kyeemafoundation.org and learn more about Kyeema.