Coral Gardening for Climate Change Adaptation in Vanuatu

Full Solution
Coral gardening

SPC/GIZ in partnership with Vanuatu’s Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network, is implementing a coral reef climate change adaptation project focused on coral gardening. Damaged coral reefs are restored, thereby contributing to climate change adaptation and eco-tourism revenue. Overseas visitors are invited to join in this planting activity, which allows them to contribute to a local development issue.

Last update: 04 Aug 2017
Challenges addressed

Vanuatu is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The inhabitants of many islands are already suffering from sea level rise and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, heavy rainfall and floods, and their effects, for example costal inundation, soil nutrient loss, and coastal & hillside erosion. The predicted rise in sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, higher temperatures and acidification of the ocean will exacerbate these risks in the coming decades. This jeopardises the livelihoods of the people, most of whom are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and are thus dependent on natural resources. Extreme weather events also have a particularly detrimental impact on tourism.

Coral reefs are currently under threat from climate change (ocean acidification, increase in ocean temperatures), invasive species (Crown of Thorns starfish) and human activities. This, in turn, affects their role for coastal protection and the island ecosystem.

Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Invasive alien species
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Sustainable livelihoods
Pele, Shefa Province, Vanuatu
Summary of the process

Climate change requires holistic solutions. We have found that in the small island communities the links among coral reefs, livelihoods, income generation and climate change are intrinsically linked.  For this reason, and in order to obtain sustainable and successful climate change adaptation, it has been essential to link coral rehabilitation (Building Block 1) to sustainable tourism (Building Block 2).

Involving women and girls (Building Block 3) not only acknowledges their important role in managing natural resources but is also beneficial for coral gardening activities, as women and girls proved to be very skilled and effective coral gardeners.

Each element is essential to achieving the overall goal of climate resilience in highly vulnerable communities.

Building Blocks
Climate Resilient Coral Gardening

Coral gardening, also known as mariculture, is undertaken by collecting small pieces of broken coral in shallow waters and re-attaching them to so-called spiderweb cages (portable metal frames).

The coral fragments are eventually transplanted to large coral frames in places where the reef has been destroyed by cyclones, crown of thorns starfish or other climate change-linked hazards. The coral beds are placed in around 6 meters of water, enough to keep them safe from cyclone swells, where they can grow into full size coral colonies.

The project uses coral varieties that are particularly resilient to the climate change impacts of bleaching and ocean acidification. The artificial reefs create new habitat for fish, and provide coastline protection from waves. 

Enabling factors
  • Implementation in the context of the participatory management of the NPMLPA, characterized by extraordinary community stewardship and engagement.
  • Awareness raising for community members on the current threats to coral reefs and the importance of corals for climate change adaptation, coastal protection, biodiversity but also for local people’s livelihoods and socio-economic development.
  • Capacity building measures for participating community members, including respective training material
Lesson learned
  • Different varieties of coral show differing levels of planting success. It has been important to trial multiple coral varieties and identify those that are most resilient to temperature and acidification as well as those that grow best in our planting conditions.
  • Women are some of the most effective coral gardeners. When they wade on the reef they are able to delicately and successfully find living coral fragments that have broken naturally due to wave damage. 
  • Coral must be firmly attached to the planting bed with cable ties or tie wire; if the coral does not have firm contact to the bed, it cannot continue to grow.
  • Youth and children have learned, through coral planting, that corals are living organisms. Using this activity as an educational tool outside the classroom has improved understanding of the underwater ecosystem, now considered as important as the terrestrial and garden ecosystems.
Eco-tourism Partnerships

Since 2013, CCCPIR has partnered with local tour operators and bungalow owners to upscale and promote the coral gardening activity. In exchange for a financial sponsorship to the community, incoming international visitors have the opportunity to proactively contribute to adaptation during their stay. Tourists are briefed on the program, learn about climate change and its impacts on coral reefs and then snorkel together with island reef champions to collect the climate resistant coral fragment and attach them on the underwater gardening beds. Specially built coral beds were strategically placed near popular tourism snorkeling areas. The coral beds are in around 6 meters of water, enough to keep them safe from cyclone swells, but shallow enough for tourists to interact with and enjoy. Visitors can come for the day to the island, or, like some school groups from overseas, stay for many weeks planting hundreds of coral fragments.

The visitor adopts each fragment planted, and the money raised goes towards community climate change adaptation activities. The coral becomes part of the “family” and repeat visitors can follow the growth and success of their planted coral colony.

Enabling factors
  • Strong partnership of NPMLPA network with other stakeholders: such as tour operators, Department of Tourism, international donors, has also been an important factor in aiding sustainability.
  • Available tourism infrastructure
  • Training and briefing with guests by locals so that they personally feel the value of contributing their time and resources
  • Providing a “coral adoption” sponsorship for visitors to formally engage with the program
Lesson learned
  • It was found that many international visitors feel responsible for climate impacts occurring in the Pacific and are open and willing to participate in adaptation provided these opportunities are available and marketed in a visitor-friendly way by local communities.
  • Some tourists cannot swim to the reef beds, and so a shore-based option has been developed whereby fragments are attached by guests to “mini-beds” inn shallow water and then deployed by divers.
Participation of women and girls

Women in Vanuatu play a critical role in the use and management of marine and terrestrial biodiversity, deciding what resources are harvested and in what quantities for sale in markets. By empowering women through participation in conservation committees, the NPMLPA network has been able to effect change at the individual and household level.

The coral gardening project is especially relevant for island women and girls. Many of them learned how to guide visitors to snorkel and collect fragments of coral for the climate reef garden. Women are typically those who collect the living coral fragments that have broken off the reef and are perfect for planting. Each piece of coral is extremely delicate and must be handled with care. Monitoring indicates that coral fragments collected by women have a 75% survival rate while those handled by men have only a 55% success rate. Since the inception of the program, GIZ has worked to encourage women to take the role of resource champions in each of the Nguna-Pele committees, offering special gender-focused trainings and capacity development workshops. The obvious benefit to women is that they can earn previously unavailable income from guiding for and helping guests plant coral fragments.

Enabling factors
  • Recognized role of women in the Nguna-Pele MLPA network
  • Special training and gender-sensitive coral mariculture capacity building exercises
  • Monitoring and Evaluation of the program that is age and gender disaggregated
Lesson learned

The marine environment is not typically the domain of women and girls in Vanuatu. This program has, for the first time, given a very clear and specific role for women to directly engage with coral. For many it was the first time they had been empowered to don mask and fins to do “work” underwater.  The lesson was that women took a very different view of the reef than their male counterparts. Rather than a habitat for fish, as seen through a male fishermen’s eye, the reef became a “nursery” for growing living coral.

  • Over 3000 coral fragments have been planted on a variety of submerged structures that proved robust and resilient to severe tropical Cyclone Pam.
  • Eroding coastlines are stabilizing with increased coral health and wave-buffering reef development
  • Planted coral varieties that are more tolerant of heat stress are becoming widespread
  • Coral-associated fish, a source of local food security, are increasing in abundance
  • 7 island villages are receiving sustainable income flows, which are re-invested in local adaptation and environmental management projects
  • Village women and girls have been empowered to proactively participate in a marine climate adaptation activity, a sector typically dominated by male fishermen and divers
  • Education programs with over 500 youth about coral sensitivity to climate change has enabled more comprehensive coastal management among indigenous communities.
  • Increased engagement with overseas visitors has opened doors for other forms of climate cooperation (e.g. sponsoring village water-supply systems, and construction of classrooms).
  • Coastal communities, School Children, Village Women/Girls
  • Visitors to the island
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Participants of Climate Change Coral Gardening

From 2014-2017, over 3000 men, women, boys and girls have participated in Climate Change Coral Gardening activities organised by the Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network throughout central Vanuatu. The objective of the program is to enable community-based coral reef climate adaptation via an innovative and income generating ecotourism activity.   

“It is a great achievement for Nguna-Pele and for climate adaptation in Vanuatu,” said village leader Carlos Tangarasi. Mr. Tasaruru Whitely of Nguna Island remarks: “For so many years we have been doing climate change adaptation around our homes and in our gardens, but now we are getting under the water and working on climate action there, too!”

The community of Worasiviu on Pele Island has been planting coral with the tourists who regularly visit its bungalows for over 3 years. Community leader Willie Kenneth explained that “tourists are able to snorkel with us to find the coral pieces and fasten them on the underwater gardening beds. In exchange for a financial sponsorship for the community, they will have a little piece of living coral reef here in Vanuatu for them to remember forever.”