"When the coral dies, life in the area also dies or goes elsewhere," says Kenrick Leslie of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. "If you were to lose the coral, what you lose is the livelihood of communities along the coast. Removing them would be like cutting off the arms of a human being," he says.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that coral is one of Barbados’ most important natural resources. It prevents the loss of beaches, reduces the effects of storms and minimize coastal erosion, by attenuating the force of waves and creating new sand. It also supports the maritime ecosystem, creating habitats for flora and fauna that serve as nurseries for various species of fish.
These are not small matters for the country. Approximately 40% of its gross domestic product comes from coastal tourism and 95% of its industry is located on or near the coast. In more than one way, its economy depends on the health of corals, either as a barrier to storms, as a tourist attraction or to preserve marine biodiversity. However, climate change and human activity contribute to the degradation of the reefs through a phenomenon called coral bleaching.
When the water gets polluted or suffers from temperature changes, the coral —a living organism— expels the algae that live on it. If the bleaching is prolonged, the coral dies of hunger since the algae serves as its main source of food. Some corals recover after these events; however, they not always manage to do so.
Interactive map: What are the areas in the Caribbean that are more threatened by coral bleaching?
In 1998, Barbados faced a bleaching event that affected 65% of its coral reefs. Further analysis found that 20% of the coral did not survive on the west coast of the island. This was not an isolated case. In 2005, a much stronger event impacted 70.6% of the coral. To this day, they are still recovering from it. If the effects of climate change and human activity are not mitigated, these events are expected to become more frequent and severe.
There are interventions that can be carried out to protect the health of the reefs, mainly through the transplantation of healthy young corals. The work is slow and labor intensive, since it requires constant maintenance and monitoring. It is a huge task that can not be carried out by the government alone: it requires the collaboration of all sectors of society, especially those that benefit directly and indirectly from the health of the maritime ecosystem.
Therefore, the IDB Lab —the IDB Group's innovation laboratory— is supporting the Government of Barbados to form an alliance between the public and private sectors to protect and restore the reefs. Under this collaboration, a business model was created that allows small and medium enterprises to benefit economically from the transplant of new corals and from the protection of existing ones from possible contaminants.
"When the coral dies, life in the area also dies or goes elsewhere," says Kenrick Leslie of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre.
The participating businesses are mainly hotels, aquatic tours and diving schools that, as part of their service offerings, teach the tourists how to protect the marine ecosystem and invite them to take part in the reconstruction of coral. This model seeks to involve traditional visitors and attract new visitors who wish to have a positive impact through environmental conservation during their vacations. It is expected that in the coming years more than 25,000 visitors will participate in the coral reef reconstruction activities.
Photo Gallery: Replanting coral reef in Barbados' coastline
By the summer of this year, 50 companies will begin offering these conservation services and it is expected to increase to 250 by 2021, which will create new employment opportunities on the island. In particular, the project seeks to integrate fishermen who have lost their source of income due to the reduction in the fish stock because of coral bleaching. Through this project, in addition to finding a new job that protects the ecosystem, they will also help make fishing a viable industry in Barbados in the future. For Louis Godfrey, a fisherman who works in coral restoration efforts, protecting the reefs is key to mitigate the challenges his industry will face due to climate change. "Not everything is money, sometimes you simply need to give back to win," he says. "Once the ocean wins, my children will win in the future and that is why I will do everything I can to teach young people how to plant coral."