Reef Rehabilitation

A few years back, Les village had fished out its reef and poisoned it to rubble with cyanide. An Indonesian NGO Telapak – actually three guys Ruwi, Cipto and Arso - taught the villagers a better way. They slept on the floors of open-air huts and became part of the village family. They taught them fish netting techniques in place of cyanide fishing. They taught them how to grow coral.

The village simply did this – build it and they will come. No fancy metal structures or Biorock. No government white papers. No government money either. No lobbying or consensus building. International NGOs like WWF and village chiefs from other parts of Indonesia and Papua come to visit Les Village to study their methods. So they can’t have gone far wrong.

This is how they did it.

Underwater, there are concrete structures and metal structures. Within three minutes snorkel from the shoreline, the structures are between 5-8 m depth. The concrete structures resemble pylons or domes, while the metal structures are mesh beds.

The villagers dragged the concrete and metal structures underwater with boats and by hand. If you don’t believe this, here are the pictures. Metro, the department store, sponsored the concrete structures so underwater, the concrete pylons spell the word “METRO”.

Once the pylons and metal beds are in place, you plant coral bits. For the concrete method, you start with concrete plugs, into which coral sprigs are set into glue (in the picture below, the glue is the blue-green stuff at the top). You then put the plug into its concrete socket underwater. The coral recruits are harvested from selected spots to ensure that the natural reef isn’t over-depleted. At Les Village, we have an abandoned commercial coral farm from where we can harvest the sprigs. With the metal beds, you tie on the coral recruits.

Sometimes the coral sprouts fall over because of the weight as they grow. As part of the ongoing gardening and maintenance of the coral beds, the villagers pick them up, and sometimes transplant them onto neighbouring substrate. They also learn from trial and error how to improve the design of coral to withstand wave action and overweight coral. For instance, the turtle that the fishermen designed for schoolkids are also the ideal dome shape to withstand currents and tidal action, our visiting scientists say. 


Two scientists from National University of Singapore are implementing coral growing and monitoring protocols. Volunteers are trained in formal survey methodology to monitor coral growth rates, diseases and other impacts. We also train our volunteers in fish surveys to monitor the rate that fish come back to decimated reefs. Another scientist from Manado State Polytechnic is trialling coral growing on rope. Read more about this in Our Living Laboratory.

Growing the coral has a side-benefit that no one could forsee at the start, but which is now probably the most important thing in ensuring the continuity of these sustainable fishing practices. By making the fishermen grow  the coral, it vests them with a feeling of ownership over the reef. So they are much less inclined now to damage something they built with  their own hands. And having seen the time it takes for new coral to win back fish populations, they are determined to keep fish stock self-sustaining and voluntarily enforce and police their size quotas.

Instead of blitzing the reef fish with cyanide, the fishermen now place a net carefully (with minimal drag impacts) on a rock bed and chase fish into the net. They sort out fingerlings and place the fish into a decompression bucket. On off hours, they go underwater to do fishcounts to regulate which sites to fish and which to let fallow.

The results are there for all to see. Like Nike says, JUST DO IT!

Some pictures are worth a thousand words. So, courtesy of our guests, who blogged about Les in, watch this lovely little video.