RVA-dives-deeper-into-coastal-protection 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

While many of the impacts of climate change, such as droughts, floods, and more frequent and intense storms are immediately observable on land, the impact of a warming globe is also having a devastating impact on marine ecosystems.

Over the years, Richmond Vale Academy (RVA) has been playing its part to protect coastal ecosystems amidst the vagaries of climate change and other human-induced untoward impacts on the natural environment.

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.

RVA Director, Stina Herberg said that the training would 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.

“This project is a very ambitious one and 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.

“It is a fascinating world. A coral is an animal, which took me some time to get my head around. So there is a lot to learn about nature that will help us to take better care of it,” Herberg said.

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.”

Herberg also highlighted why it is very important to take care of the coral reefs in SVG.

“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.

“Further, as 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, 100 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.
coastal protection
The Richmond Coastal Wetlands is a critical area that supports the overall biodiversity of many species of fish, shellfish, birds and mammals.

Over the years, the Richmond area, one of the only wetland areas of this kind in St. Vincent, has been severely damaged. This is due to climate-change-related disasters and human activity, including the daily mining of sand and gravel and the damming and redirecting of the flow of the river in pursuit of artisanal economic activity. As a result, Richmond Beach has been affected by sea level rise.

The situation obtains although mangrove estuaries and wetlands are nurseries for many species and a healthy estuary represents food security for many people. Further, other wetlands and mangrove systems in St. Vincent have been lost over the years.

Tyrone W. Buckmire, a mangrove expert and director of Grenada Fund for Conservation, Inc., said the Richmond Beach Coastal Wetland area offers a possibility for long-term survival and success because of the size and current existing features of the area and through the engagement of the RVA.

Buckmire said:

“Both red and white mangroves should do well at this site, as they will benefit from the already existing mature shrubbery in the area. A number of different planting methods can be used. Both red and white seedlings can be introduced directly into the soil, as has already been done. In addition, encasement planting can also be done, using red mangrove seedlings in either bamboo or PVC tubes, closer to the water’s edge. The seedlings will need to be planted in individual, species-specific transects, so that comparison monitoring can be done over time. Transect sizes will have to be varied according to species and ground conditions.”

RVA recognised that understanding the importance of these ecosystems and how to preserve them is new for many people and it is important to bring this message out to the public.

Therefore, the lessons on biodiversity have been taught in several local schools over the past three years whilst partnering with the Lions Club, Police Co-operative Credit Union, National Parks Rivers and Beaches Authority and the Forestry Department.

Further, tree-planting campaigns have been executed every year, with the planting of neem, fat pork, pandanus, coconut, sea grapes, and white and red mangroves.
Buckmire has visited from Grenada twice and advised on the project.
With the transformation of the area, all visitors, including locals, treat it with more respect and appreciation.

Community participation

An important element of all of RVA’s projects is community collaboration. The communities of North Leeward are among the poorest, economically, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Unemployment is high and the main economic activities revolve around fishing and farming, both of which are threatened by declining environmental health resulting from poor environmental practices.

The project is anticipated to improve environmental stewardship, environmental health and employment prospects.

“We plan to share the journey of the young participants with the wider community through national television and radio broadcasts, with a view to increasing the reach and impact of the project,” Herberg said.