Coral Reef Gardening and More!
Oct, 30 2022
Earlier this summer we welcomed Rivkah Wolf-Camplin, the winner of the Coral Reef Gardener, to Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. During her 3-week tenure at the resort working as the Coral Reef Gardener alongside our Marine Educator, Rivkah experienced many different aspects of marine biology and conservation at a resort level. We’re happy to share with you her story:
I have been working with Rosie, the Marine Educator here at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. She is a marine biologist brimming with enthusiasm and optimism and has happily answered any questions I have, and is willing to show my anything I have an interest in. With her, I have learned how to properly photograph and ID sea turtles and manta rays, and both of which are species that are tracked across the Maldives.
The goal is to discern where these animals are traveling and undergoing important life stages (breeding, feeding, maturing, etc.) Mantas are identified by the spot pattern on their bellies, as each one is as unique as a fingerprint. For this, you just need one or two good photos of their belly, which can sometimes be easy (or not) to get depending on the individual. Turtles are identified by the scales on their face, also in unique patterns. Both “fingerprints” are input into databases where professionals will carefully review (with the help of computer programs) and determine which individuals are traveling to where. To help facilitate these IDs I often accompanied Rosie on the bi-weekly manta and turtle snorkeling trips with guests, and we worked to collect IDs while also supervising the guests who are less experienced in a reef setting.
I’ve also gotten the chance to work a little bit with the Olive Ridley Project (ORP), a charity dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of sea turtles. At the moment, they are monitoring eight patients in their clinic, and over 20 turtle nests on the island. As the Marine Educator, Rosie also has a large role in documenting these nests, working on relocating them as necessary, and conducting the post-hatch excavations. As turtles come to the beach to nest, she is called (often in the middle of the night!) and she comes to observe from a distance, try and locate the eggs as they can be anywhere within a six-foot trench, and identify the mother. Additionally, if possible, the shell of the mother and the tracks will be measured. This is a process I am both lucky and grateful to have had the chance to observe on my first week on the island. While it has been a long-time dream of mine to see a turtle nest hatch, I never thought it would even be possible to experience the entire turtle life cycle, as I now have.
We try to be present for nest hatchings, though this is difficult to predict as there is often no warning beforehand, and most hatchings are complete within minutes. Again, I have been exceedingly lucky during my time at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu to witness two nest hatchings. It is truly a marvel to witness such small creatures acting purely on instinctual programing and making their way to the sea. I think I could watch another hundred hatchings and still find the process fascinating! 48 hours after a hatching, the ORP team excavate the nest counting the number of shells, unhatched eggs, and any dead or alive babies. Survivors who were not able to clear the nest themselves are immediately released to the ocean. There have been six nest excavations during my stay on the island, and I have had the opportunity to learn all aspects of the task from observing them.
Last but not least, as suggested by my title, I have learned how to garden coral! A better description may be cultivating, as most of what we do is collect fragmented pieces of coral from the ocean floor and relocated them to frames or ropes set up for their survival. Coral fragments naturally in harsh weather or currents and can also be damaged by human activity. Left on the ocean flood to be buried in the sand, these pieces will quickly die. By locating them and securing them within the water column, the fragments can grow anew and spawn a whole new coral. Coral growth is very slow, which is one of the reasons starting so many new babies is important to help restoring reefs. Rosie has several different “gardens” set up along our island’s house reef, and we rotate where we work. A true joy of my time with the resort was helping to place and plant the new Dhoni frame – a metal structure built in the shape of a traditional Maldivian boat as a new coral garden. It is one of the largest frames currently in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu’s garden and took many days to fill completely. I am so proud of the frame and the work Rosie and I put into it, and can’t wait to see the results our work will yield over time.
Apart from working I have had plenty of free time to enjoy some of the luxuries Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu offers. I have attended many excursions and have been up with the sun to see dolphins, traveled to Hanifaru Bay twice in search of mantas, and gone recreational diving. I can also snorkel around the island at my leisure and enjoy the sea grass beds the most as this is where I am most likely to spot a variety of wildlife. I have had a chance to interact with guests from all over the world, and made friends from Germany, Singapore, Saudi Araba, Portugal, the UK, and of course, the Maldives. This has truly been a once in a lifetime experience, and I am eternally grateful that Coco Collection chose to offer me the chance. I hope to take the experiences I have had here and apply all I have learned into restoring the reefs along the southern US, and hopefully continue this positive trend of restoration!