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Emily Vacchiano, Communications Specialist Caribbean Division

This is a story from our Ocean Challenge partner The Nature Conservancy. Your participation in the Ocean Challenge has helped to support their work!

In February 2019, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and partners, through the support of the Students Rebuild Ocean Challenge, led a week-long Coral Mania event in the Dominican Republic. Coral Mania 2019 brought together environmental nonprofits, government agencies and private businesses from all over the country to collaborate on restoring critically endangered staghorn corals in the Bayahibe area. Over the course of several days, coral conservation scientists and practitioners spent many hours diving to damaged reef areas to plant healthy new staghorn corals that were grown in underwater nurseries managed by on-the-ground partners of TNC.

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Bayahibe is a popular tourist destination in the Dominican Republic, where local communities and businesses rely on the ocean and coral reefs for income and food. By the end of the week, over 1,200 staghorn corals had been planted in severely damaged reef areas, an inspiring outcome for everyone involved and for those following the progress from afar. A social media post about the outcome received over 10,000 engagements and reached over 63,000 people. In addition, new connections and relationships were forged between organizations and businesses all working toward the same goal — to protect and restore coral reefs and preserve ocean health throughout the Caribbean. Ximena Escovar-Fadul, a Program Manager for TNC in the Caribbean, describes the event, “Coral Mania engaged the local community of Bayahibe and institutions from all over the Dominican Republic, including fishers, tourism operators and the government, to work together, exchange ideas and build a camaraderie that will strengthen our coral work moving forward.”

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Coral Mania 2019 culminated in a fun and educational field trip, hosted at Fundación Grupo Puntacana’s Center for Marine Innovation, for local teenaged students. Students toured the land-based coral labs at the Center, where they learned about coral microfragmentation, an advanced coral restoration technique, saw fragmented corals growing in tanks and were able to examine coral skeletons first-hand to understand their structure and life cycle. They also had an opportunity to learn about a new and innovative initiative launched by TNC and partners to monitor coral reefs across the Caribbean using satellites, hyperspectral imagery, and drones. Even our social followers enthusiastically supported our efforts to educate and engage the next generation — a social media post about this field trip received over 8,000 engagements and reached over 59,000 people.

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Dr. Joseph Pollock, TNC’s Director of Coral Strategy, said of the field trip, “We asked the students why they think corals are important and expected a few responses from around the room. We were surprised and completely inspired when the kids all shouted out dozens of different reasons they value corals and ways corals relate to their lives. You could hear the honesty in their voices when they were all committing at the end of the day to do their part to protect reefs. These kids care, and it’s really wonderful to see that and be a part of their learning experience.”