Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world and home to more than 25% of marine species. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists predict that 70-90% of coral reefs are in danger of dying out within the next two decades (2030-2050).
Faced with the emergency of coral reefs approaching increasingly imminent extinction due to climate change and pollution, the MSC Foundation has developed its own initiative together with a panel of international experts to conserve and nurture coral reefs and their marine ecosystems. Called The Super Coral Programme, it takes its name from certain hardy species and genotypes of coral, colloquially named “Super Coral”, that have survived recent extreme ocean heat events and other impacts in the waters around the Ocean Cay in the Bahamas, where the programme is based.
Once an industrial sand excavation site, Ocean Cay has been transformed by MSC Cruises – its operator – into a private island destination surrounded by crystal blue waters that are home to important marine species and coral habitats now threatened by ocean degradation.
Following an ecological assessment conducted to understand the conservation needs of Ocean Cay’s coral reefs and the preparation of a roadmap for their restoration, the Super Coral Programme has transitioned to its implementation phase. Kicking this off, the MSC Foundation signed partnership agreements with the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University, finalising the terms of the graduate internship activities that will support the Super Coral Programme’s research and development activities.
Announcing the agreements, Pierfrancesco Vago, Chair of the MSC Group’s MSC Foundation Executive Committee, commented: “This partnership marks an important step forward in our commitment to implement a marine conservation programme to reverse the steep decline of coral reefs around the globe, which threatens a quarter of all marine life. The Ocean is in our DNA, which is why the Super Coral programme is more than a local initiative to protect and restore the coral reefs around Ocean Cay and Florida. It is designed to build unique expertise in the study and practice of coral resilience, developing a model that can be successfully replicated around the world.”
The interns will be actively involved in researching, developing, testing and refining methods to reverse the decline in coral reefs in the 64-square-mile marine reserve around Ocean Cay, pioneering the rebuilding of damaged coral reefs with “Super Coral” species that are more resilient to environmental threats like ocean pollution and warming.
“The MSC Super Coral Programme seeks to help restore coral reefs in The Bahamas to a healthy state through actively selecting for climate change resistant genotypes and enhancing sexual propagation of those genotypes,” explained Chris Langdon, Professor of the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
David Smith – Professor of Marine Biology at The University of Essex – is the Chief Scientific Advisor for the Super Coral Programme on the MSC Foundation Advisory Board. Remarking on the programme’s potential to nurture and restore coral reefs and their marine ecosystems while simultaneously contributing to global understanding of coral conservation, he observed: “We are constantly bombarded with warnings about the demise of coral reefs around the world, and rightly so, it’s absolutely true they’re being obliterated. There are not many cases where you can say this is a real opportunity, a window of hope”.
The first implementation phase, now under way, will see the University research scientists reviewing all the current research literature on functional restoration and coral conservation methods in the Caribbean, and on coral species that are resistant and/or resilient to underwater condition and temperature changes.
"MS Marine Biology students from Nova Southeastern university have an outstanding opportunity for research internships at Ocean Cay, Bahamas, funded by the MSC Foundation," observed Joana Figueiredo Ph.D. at Nova Southeastern University. “They will help set up a coral nursery to propagate corals, study the marine life of the marine reserve around the island, and interact with guests to inform them about coral reef protection.”
Building works at Ocean Cay will simultaneously proceed to complete the first phase of the Super Coral Center, focused on the BioLab laboratory and coral nursery areas. Accompanying this, the MSC Foundation will develop awareness-raising materials for Ocean Cay guests and the general public on the emergency facing coral reefs, their importance and how to take action to protect them at an individual level.