October marked the first anniversary of the coral restoration program at Six Senses Zil Pasyon and the beginning of the next exciting chapter in the project, which aims to restore a seafloor area of about 6,500 square feet (600 square meters). During the one-year period, corals grew over 200 percent on average, with a growth range of between 85 and 422 percent per harvested segment. Survival rate was 93.4 percent, with the majority of the loss resulting from nursery damage that unfortunately took place during August’s rough monsoon season.
The restoration program, which saw the resort collaborate with local NGOs Nature Seychelles, Ramos Marine and Island Reserve, in addition to the Seychelles National Park Authority (SNPA), began in October 2017 with the collection of healthy corals from threatened reefs nearby Félicité and the creation of a coral nursery, just off the shore of Anse Peniche, the northernmost beach of the resort. The team is growing corals and using those to replant a reef.
After a week of on-site training at Six Senses Zil Pasyon by Nature Seychelles in early October, Six Senses hosts and Nature Seychelles volunteers began transplantation of the enlarged coral fragments. So far, 548 corals have been returned to the natural reef environment, where they will continue to grow and flourish. With the creation of the new coral garden in the designated Marine Park Area surrounding Félicité Island, fish and other marine life will begin to return, enhancing the natural ecosystems as well as the guest experience for keen snorkelers at Six Senses Zil Pasyon.
Seychelles and the Indian Ocean have been particularly vulnerable to coral decline due to a range of stresses, such as climate change, fishing, coastal development and natural predation, but these organisms provide essential ecosystem functions as well as tourism value. Six Senses Zil Pasyon had a unique opportunity to restore the coral surrounding Félicité, and while the main focus of the program was directed at conservation, it also provided an opportunity to educate guests and the local community.
Anna Zora, sustainability manager, who oversaw the program at the resort said, “The coral nursery has not only allowed us to improve the marine ecosystems surrounding our island, but it has also given us the opportunity to engage and educate our guests, hosts and local community regarding the importance of coral reefs and the negative impact human activity can have on our environment. It has also been a wonderful collaboration between multiple organizations and demonstrates the strong commitment to conservation in Seychelles.”
Following a feasibility study in July 2017, 1,800 coral fragments were harvested. Suitable fragments were identified by qualified marine biologists, including Zora, from the various partner organizations. Donor corals were chosen from colonies from neighboring Albatros Island, known to be vulnerable to sea snail infestation yet having simultaneously proven their strength and heat-resistance by surviving the 2016 mass bleaching event in the Indian Ocean. The nursery, which allowed the corals to grow for one year, was constructed with ropes and pipes for buoyancy and resembled an underwater hammock about 65 by 20 feet (20 by 6 meters).
Daily maintenance was required, with the team monitoring growth and cleaning the delicate fragments with toothbrushes to remove algae and barnacles. Aside from the turbulent waters, other challenges throughout the project included poor visibility and strong currents, unexpected visits from predators like the great barracudas and cold waters, which favor algae and barnacle growth, therefore making the cleaning process more difficult.
The success of the program has been another highlight on the list of conservation efforts underway at Six Senses Zil Pasyon. Hilton Hastings, general manager, said, “The harvesting and replanting of corals around the resort has been a wonderful accomplishment by our sustainability team and partner organizations. It is important that we continue to demonstrate responsible practices in hospitality, which includes ensuring that we take care of the environments in which we operate. We are proud to be part of a group that values sustainability and conservation and are pleased to have the opportunity to dedicate resources to projects that give back to our local environment and community.”
The next phase of the project will see Ramos Marine and Island Reserve take over the daily activities of the coral nursery, with Nature Seychelles handing over learning and best practices by the end of November. Six Senses Zil Pasyon will continue to pursue coral restoration with the creation of a new nursery in the coming months and is currently recruiting a marine biologist intern to assist in the management of the program.