One of our latest and most ambitious projects ventures beyond the shore to restore coral reef ecosystems which are vital to marine and coastal ecosystems as well as food security in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has one of the largest seascapes in the southern Caribbean.
RVA is hosting a major marine conservation programme to train 16 Vincentians -- eight males and eight females -- to become coral reef gardeners and stewards of the marine environment, with emphasis on protection of the coastline and developing coral nurseries.
The Coral restoration project has three partners, namely Centre for Livelihoods, Ecosystems, Energy, Adaptation and Resilience – St. Lucia (CLEAR St. Lucia), Sustainable Grenadines (SusGren), and RVA.
CLEAR St. Lucia has the expertise and has done coral reef nurseries in Petit St. Vincent and St. Lucia and will provide training for RVA and SusGren. The programme is being executed with funding from the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund.
The training will use Caribbean Community (CARICOM)- vocational qualifications in coral restoration as well as other standard scientific manuals, including diving manuals certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) or the Professional Scuba Schools (PSS).
Under the project, coral nurseries will be created in the southern Grenadines islands of Union Island and Mayreau, as well as in North Leeward, on the main island of St. Vincent. The final location of the North Leeward nursery is yet to be determined, in light of April’s explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano.
The plan is to propagate 10,000 elkhorn corals and 30,000 staghorn corals. This translates to about 40 hectares of reefs that will be improved in this area between St. Lucia and south to PSV.
The programme includes the renting of a glass bottom boat and taking students to see the nursery and teaching them about the importance of the corals and how we can augment coral reefs by coral gardening and how coral reefs function as part of the marine ecosystem.
The training commenced in October due to the work of the Richmond Vale Academy having been delayed by the impact of the explosive eruption of La Soufriere Volcano in April.
Corals reefs are very important because they provide many ecosystem services to tourism, fisheries and coastal protection. Protecting our coral is critical for food security and responding to climate change. While warmer, more acidic oceans as a consequence of climate change pose challenges for coral reefs, coral reefs are an important buffer to storm surges.
Coral reefs are under threat from agro chemicals and run-off pollution from hotels and other households and businesses. This is a big threat to reefs as more than 50% of the reefs in the Caribbean have already been lost. And, warmer water temperatures due to the current climate emergency are damaging to the coral reefs. Therefore, it is very crucial to protect the coral reefs. They are some of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is heavily dependent on tourism, a healthy marine ecosystem is an important part of the nation’s tourism product, which, coupled with efforts on land, could make the country the eco-conservation capital of the Caribbean, which would, in turn, attract many tourists.
With the coral gardening project, Richmond Vale Academy is plunging into the deep end of conservation; a natural progression as our conservation efforts have taken us beyond the water’s edge.
RVA’s legacy of environmental protection
In 2015, RVA ramped up its environmental protection and conservation efforts by investing in a diving centre
which had two certified instructors soon after. Since then, more than 150 certifications have already been issued in Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver and Dive Master. Over a period of three years, RVA also mapped out a number of diving sites in North Leeward and visited these sites frequently.
RVA executed a number of hunts to reduce the population of lionfish, an invasive species that threatens the health of reefs because of their ravenous appetite and high rate of reproduction in the absence of any natural predators. The lionfish harvested during these hunts were donated to schools to be served as a healthy addition to their school meal programmes.
At the same time, RVA began to examine more closely the importance of marine biodiversity and the impact of climate change on coral reefs. We also initiated the Richmond Vale Coastal Conservation Project, which involved planting coastal trees, such as mangroves, to protect against sea level rises.