Marine biologist Louise Sabadel carefully cradled a tree-like branch of chocolate-colored elkhorn coral in her left hand, and proceeded to cut a 3-inch fragment using a small plier. Next, she showed me how to delicately knot a thin string around a piece before diving four feet down into the translucent, azure-colored waters of the Ruahatu Lagoon Sanctuary at Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora.
Her mission? To knot the other end of the string around one of the little arms jutting out of a large manmade, donut-shaped structure protruding from the ocean floor. This is the first step of coral restoration.
As a guest of Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, I was able to participate in the coral grafting and restoration activities at the property, now one of many hotels that are investing in larger efforts to fight climate change and support environmental protection. Coral planting also presents an interaction with nature that is perhaps less exploitive than some other tourism activities.
Coral gardening may be labor-intensive, but it’s also easy enough for volunteers. Success rates validate this, and research by the Journal for Nature Conservation found that coral planted by volunteers has a success rate of at least 80% and often over 90% — almost the same success rate as coral gardened by experts. Furthermore, if guests return a year later, they may actually see their impact, as coral can grow to maturity as quickly as six to 12 months.
Considering that threats to coral health are widespread in tropical destinations around the world, it’s not surprising that Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is not the only property adding coral planting to its amenities. In tropical locations worldwide, hotels are dedicating their time and resources to preserving and restoring coral. Following are eight resorts that invite their guests to join in the underwater action.
Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire
Guests at this dive resort are encouraged to join the volunteer program, including coral maintenance activities such as removing algae and predators and planting coral. Before volunteering, guests must become a PADI-certified Reef Renewal Diver. It’s a simple three-dive course that is offered onsite at Buddy Dive.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives
Here, guests are taught how to replant coral fragments on metal frames and place the structures on the seafloor. They can name their frames and receive pictures updates of their reefs over the years. In addition to its reef restoration program and sustainability initiatives, Conrad Maldives has gotten a lot of attention for The Muraka, an underwater residence.
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, French Polynesia
As a result of coral replanting efforts, the Four Seasons Bora Bora’s lagoon has become a safe haven for baby fish, and according to on-site marine biologist Sabadel, it has seen amazing growth rates of corals, with “some corals showing over 200% growth in just three months.” GPS tracking is affixed to the donuts so that guests can track their structure, which is moved to a permanent position at the resort after maturing.
Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, Seychelles
Honeymooning couples at this resort can celebrate their love with the Love Grows Beautiful Things experience by sponsoring a coral fragment in Petite Anse bay to grow and develop, just like their relationship. First, the couple selects a rescued coral fragment or one harvested from a wild donor colony. Next, they can attach it via a cable tie to a heart-shaped metal support.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, Fiji
The reefs worked on by guests and staff at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort in Viti Levu have seen an increase in baby sharks and other marine life. Guests — who can tend to the nursery of giant clams — have planted more than 100 football fields’ worth of coral.
Sandals Grande St. Lucian, St. Lucia
At Sandals Grande St. Lucian in Gros Islet, St. Lucia, PADI-certified guests can sign up for the coral nursery dive program. This activity includes a classroom learning session on coral reef ecology and outplanting, and two open water dives. Guests will assist St. Lucian coral restoration efforts by collecting coral fragments for outplanting, maintaining coral nurseries and outplanting coral.
Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, St. Lucia
Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort offers guests its Environmental Dive Package, including three days of diving and PADI Reef Rescue Diver Certification. The itinerary includes the hands-on experience of maintaining a coral nursery and an outplanting nursery (where coral fragments grown on land are planted back in reefs).
Zeavola Resort & Spa, Thailand
This luxury eco-resort is a five-star PADI dive property located in Koh Phi Phi. Divers have the opportunity to help fight against coral bleaching and damage to the area’s threatened coral reefs. Besides coral replanting activities, guests can also participate in beach clean-ups and help remove debris and plastic from reefs to prevent coral suffocation.