Hurricane Iris swept across Belize in 2001, destroying large amounts of the vital coral reef ecosystems that lay off the coast. Marine biologist Lisa Carne had witnessed these corals in their pre-storm splendor and was devastated at their destruction. With the ambitious goal of bringing the reef back to life, she began single-handedly planting corals.
After some initial setbacks, a private funder gave Carne the money needed to launch a large-scale planting initiative in 2006. Today, 80 percent of those corals are still alive. Carne hired a team to help her initiative and they began taking pieces of viable coral and growing them into transplant segments. Seeing the success of the project, even more volunteers, namely fishermen and tour guides from nearby Placencia village, began to lend a hand.
Some critics argue that replanting reefs are ineffective without addressing the root problems that caused them to die off, but Carne is determined. In 2013, she founded Fragments of Hope, a nonprofit which offers local and international coral restoration courses.
So far, 85,000 corals have been planted in the area and the coral cover of the seafloor in the park increased from 6% to 50% between 2010 to 2017. In addition to replanting efforts, the government of Belize has also enacted protections for marine habitats including bans on shrimp trawling, the use of gill nets, and off-shore oil exploration.
Fragments of Hope’s techniques have been used to restore reefs in areas of Colombia, Jamaica, and the Caribbean island of St Barts. A big component of Carne’s success has been the overwhelming community support for the project. The residents of the island recognize the value of coral and want to partake in its protection. “When we first started maybe one or two people were doing reef restoration,” Carne tells the BBC. “But nowadays, everybody’s doing it. I joke that it’s like yoga now.”