Saving Bali’s Reefs With Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science

Last week, we traveled to the SeaTrees coral reef restoration project in Bali. The purpose was to make a film about the extraordinary work being done by our local partner, Ocean Gardener. 

Traveling with us were two professional surfers from Roxy and Quiksilver, who are major supporters of the project.  

The film is in the editing bay now, but we couldn’t wait to show you the photographs that show just how the project operates, including the innovative 3D mapping process we’ve developed with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps). 

Meet the Team
Pictured from left to right: Roxy athlete Caroline Marks, Ocean Gardener founder Vincent Chalias, local Quiksilver athlete Rajo Barrel, SeaTrees co-founder Michael Stewart, and the local community of Nusa Penida who manage the coral restoration.

At the heart of the story is the local Balinese community who manage the coral restoration project, designed and led by Vincent Chalias. This is one of the most innovative coral restoration projects in the world. We are proud to support their efforts through our SeaTrees program.

The film will showcase their work through the eyes of two professional surfers. Caroline Marks is one of the most exciting and dynamic female surfers in the World Surf League. Rajo Barrel is a 14 year old Balinese surfer who has a bright future ahead of him.

The Coral Restoration Process

Pictured: Ocean Gardner instructing the athletes and SeaTrees team on how to prepare coral fragments for the nursery.

Coral restoration begins in the Ped Acropora Nursery, where coral fragments are prepped and tied onto organic, natural rope lines that cause no harm to the marine environment. This is adapted from a traditional method used to grow seaweed, so the local community is very familiar with it. This innovative technique has proven successful as we’ve seen coral grow and flourish at our first restoration site which SeaTrees supported in 2020.

Pictured: Coral fragments getting tied down in the nursery site where they will grow in size to increase survival rates.

These “baby corals,” or micro coral fragments, are then transferred to the shallow and calm waters of the nursery, where they will grow until they are large enough to be transplanted to the restoration sites on Nusa Penida, Ped and Crystal Bay. Larger corals are more likely to survive in the restoration site.

Pictured: Cultivated coral being transferred to the restoration site by kayak. Caroline, Rajo, and local divers hammering stakes to tie-down ropes of harvested coral fragments.

Our team assisted the local divers in removing the rope lines with coral fragments ready to be transplanted to the reef. Divers prepare the restoration site by hammering stakes into the ground to allow for the rope lines to be secured in place on the reef without the fragments touching the ocean floor. This process ensures they will grow appropriately spaced and reach the seafloor when large enough to withstand the harsh “rubble” environment. 

Planting these fragments amongst healthy reefs will allow the ecosystem to thrive and help marine life to return to the area in years to come.

Making 3D Maps of the Coral Restoration

Pictured: Local fishermen employed by Ocean Gardener swimming GoPros over the reef to capture 3D mapping footage.

One of the greatest challenges for any coral restoration project is ensuring that the coral survives long-term and restores healthy diverse reef ecosystems. It can be difficult for scientists to visit coral projects and evaluate the success of the project.

To solve this problem, we worked with scientists from the Scripps to develop a method for Ocean Gardener to use GoPro cameras to collect 3D photogrammetry data from the SeaTrees coral restoration site.  

Then a 3D model of the reef restoration site is created with over 10 billion points of data. This model can be used by scientists to evaluate the success of reef restoration remotely. Previously, this kind of mapping required scientists to visit with specialized camera equipment. But now, readily available GoPro cameras make this process accessible to anyone.

Our vision is to scale up coral reef restoration around the world, and train project teams to collect the map information with GoPro cameras. Then our partners at Scripps will create the 3D models, which we can use to monitor project impact and conduct meaningful scientific research. 

Thanks goes out to Clint Edwards and the 100 Island Challenge, who ran the models, and Vid Petrovich who developed the 3D visualization software. 

Visiting a Sacred Space

Nusa Penida, which translates to the Island of Priests, was once known as the Black Magic Island as legend says it was inhabited by demons and warlocks. It is also home to Pura Ped, or the Black Magic Temple, a sacred space that is customary for all Balinese people to visit once in their lives. It’s about finding a balance between light and darkness, as one cannot exist without another. 

Decades of visitation and boat traffic have destroyed the coral reefs surrounding the island. However, recent legislation, local community involvement, and projects like ours have ensured the restoration and long-term survival of thriving coral reefs.

Pictured: Our team visiting and receiving blessings at the Black Magic Temple on Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia.

Word Hard, Play Hard

After a few long days of restoring coral, filming, and editing, the team enjoyed Bali's natural bounty and biodiversity.. First, they got to surf the iconic break known as Shipwrecks, where not one but two ships have found themselves stuck on the reef, which creates a wedge that bounces off the barge Next they snorkeled  with Nusa Penida's majestic manta rays. Finally, they got their hands dirty helping plant more SeaTrees, but this time it was carbon sequestering mangroves

Pictured: Surfing Shipwrecks, diving with manta rays, and planting mangrove trees.

To showcase this incredible experience, SeaTrees and Boardriders have created a film that will be broadcast during the WSL Quiksilver Pro at G-Land from May 28 - June 6. Stay tuned on our social media to find out when the video will air.

And to all those who helped make this project possible, terima kasih or thank you in English!