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Coral reefs are considered one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet following tropical forests, and millions of people who live in coastal communities in developing countries depend on them for all or part of their livelihood. These are found in more than 100 countries, and the economic, social, cultural, and ecological systems offered by these systems are very diverse, and include:

  • Sources of protein for about 9,000 handcrafted fishermen in the Dominican Republic.
  • Recreational and educational opportunities to generate up to 1.6 billion dollars to the US State of Florida’s economy.
  • Biodiversity centers where 25% of all known fish species have lived part or all of their lives.
  • Protección  de aproximadamente 150,000 km de costa en > 100 países y producen arena a un ritmo de 400-2,000 toneladas he/año.

 

However, health of coral reefs continues to deteriorate worldwide as a result of a number of human and natural factors. A dramatic example of this deterioration is the loss of more than 95% of Acropora cervicornis coral (staghorn coral) and A. palmata (Elkhorn coral) during the last 40 years. Due to its present state, the species has been classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the United States in 2006..

To face this problem, in 2005, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, in cooperation with Counterpart International, implemented a program for the conservation and restoration of Acropora corals, by establishing an in-water pilot nursery (Coral Garden) The purpose of the nursery is to prevent possible extinction of these species in the Dominican Republic. This will be accomplished by implementing Coral Gardens, a practical tool that includes: i) the location of wild colonies, ii) collecting and spreading minimal tissue of these colonies and iii) after a period of growth, the return of this tissue to natural reefs, to promote the recovery of the species. At present, there are 11 coral nurseries in the Dominican Republic, being the nursery of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation the most successful and productive in the country.

As of today, with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), activities have been carried out to promote Coral Gardens as a tourism product. Simultaneously, they have provided tourists and local community members the opportunity to be actively involved in the conservation and restoration of these species. To achieve this goal, the Ecological Foundation has certified 10 fishermen and Coral gardeners and has created a specialty diver course named “PADI Coral First Aid Distinctive Specialty Course,” approved by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI, for its acronym in English), being offered in several diving centers in the Dominican Republic.

The PADI Coral First Aid course teaches visitors and tourists the theory on the importance of coral reefs to the Dominican Republic and introduces them to the status and threats to coral reefs. Participants learn about different actions being implemented for coral reef conservation and restoration, on the different structures being used for Acropora corals propagation and on the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of structure propagation.

After the theoretical part, participants learn to build at least two (2) types of propagation structures. Next, these structures are installed in the water during the practical part of the course. In this part, participants learn to install the structures, coral recollection, structure planting and data collection. To complete their certification, participants have the option of working in a real nursery.

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This document was produced with the support of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of the Cooperation Agreement No. AID-517-A-12-00001 implemented by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (CDCT). The content and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of USAID, or the Government of the United States of America.