Since the project began in 2011, Daplac Bay has transformed into a haven for marine life. 2017
Coral gardening is a method of actively restoring reef ecosystems through coral propagation. Small fragments of coral, broken off by natural causes such as storms, are attached to man-made structures providing a stable environment for growth. Every 6-12 months the coral colonies can be propagated again to expand this coral nursery. Colonies are eventually planted back onto the seabed where they continue to grow, reproduce and build up the reef.
From the late 1980s, local residents Ditchay Roxas and her husband Philippe Girardeau witnessed the decimation of coral reefs in Daplac Bay. They were suffering the same fate as many other reefs across Palawan: over-fishing and illegal use of dynamite and sodium cyanide was killing off corals and siltation from agricultural run-off was smothering any survivors.
In 2011, after extensive research and advice from international marine scientists, they launched South Sea Reef Rehab, with financial support from Palawan Cove. They adapted techniques used successfully in other countries to suit local conditions and make use of available materials – aiming to design a low-budget coral restoration project which would be replicable all over Palawan.
To combat the effects of run-off from slash-and-burn agriculture (kaingin), vetiver grass was planted along the hillsides and waterways to prevent soil running into the bay. Then the first coral fragments were attached to submerged structures which were welded on site and have since been adapted for changing weather and wave patterns. Marine heatwaves are a growing threat so some structures have already been moved to deeper, cooler waters.
A team of divers from the local fishing community staffs the project – welding new structures, monitoring coral growth as well as checking for disease and parasites. With coastal rangers now protecting the area from illegal fishers, Daplac Bay has become a haven for marine life with thriving communities of fish, young reef sharks and marine turtles. “Life attracts life,” says Roxas.
South Sea Reef Rehab freedivers checks coral health and growth on a steel structure installed two years previously. 2017
Hexagonal structures made from galvanized steel support the growth of coral fragments into mature corals which can be harvested and planted in the coral garden. 2017
Hard corals planted on the seabed are a mixture of species which are native to the area. 2017
A school of herbivorous fish, mostly parrotfishes, cruise the reef shortly before sunset. 2018
A freediver working for the South Sea Reef Rehab checks coral health and growth. 2017
A back tip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) surveys a school of juvenile oxeye scad (Selar boops). 2018
Hexagonal structures support the growth of coral fragments into mature colonies which can be harvested and planted in the coral garden. 2017
This area just outside of the coral garden illustrates the condition of much the bay before the South Sea Reef Rehab project began. Many of the corals have been smothered by macroalgae and are dead. 2017
Ditchay Roxas, who founded the project with her husband Philippe Girardeau in 2011, dives to check coral growth. 2017
The coral garden created by South Sea Reef Rehab has become a sanctuary for many species of juvenile fish. 2018
The project's wholistic "Ridge to Reef" approach has significantly improved water quality in Daplac Bay. Vetiver grass planted on the hillisdes and next to waterways has prevented runoff from slash and burn agriculture from entering the bay.
The calm and shaded shallows of Boayan Island provide shelter for juvenile fish. 2017
A hexagonal structure supporting coral fragments installed six months previously. The fragments are attached with locally-available marine epoxy. All aspects of the project were designed so it would be easily replicable at a low cost to other communities in Palawan. 2017
Abundant marine life on a structure which was installed four years previously. 2019
A back tip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) surveys a school of juvenile oxeye scad (Selar boops) shelter in the shallows of the coral garden. 2018
Coral fragments planted two years previously. 2017
A school of juvenile oxeye scad (Selar boops) shelter in the shallows of the coral garden. Once they mature the scad will leave shleter of Daplac Bay for the open sea. 2018
A school of herbivorous fish, mostly parrotfishes, cruise the coral garden grazing on algae and dead coral. As they scrape up the algae they also ingest a lot of coral and rock which they later deposit as sand. This how much of the sand on tropical reefs and beaches is created. 2018
Ditchay Roxas checks coral growth on a steel structure installed six months previously. Stones have been heaped beneath the structure to support the coral colonies through time. 2017
Abundant marine life, including many cardinalfishes, on a steel structure which was installed four years previously. 2019
A school of herbivorous fish, mostly parrotfishes, graze on algae and dead coral. Parrotfishes, named for their beak-like teeth, play an important role in the reef as they feed on algae growing on coral thus preventing it from overgrowing and smothering the coral colony. 2018
Cardinalfishes and soft coral. 2019
Ditchay Roxas checks live corals that have been transferred and are now growing on top of the dead coral substrate. 2017
A feather star is a "living fossile", a marine animal which has existed for around 200 million years. These crinoids can swim but mostly remain attached to corals or rocks feeding on passing plankton which they catch with their long, feather-like arms. 2017
Mushroom corals (fungiidae family). According to scientists at the Philippines Coral Bleaching Watch, mushroom corals are among the most heat-sensitive coral species and can be reliable indicators of thermal stress during marine heatwaves. 2019
White scars most likely from feeding Drupella snails.
Rocks have been placed beneath the coral-supporting structure to provide additional habitat and stability over time. 2017
A school of juvenile oxeye scad (Selar boops) shelter in the shallows of the coral garden. g2018
Staghorn corals grow on a steel structure in the shallows of Boayan Island. These branching, stony corals which are key to reef-building processes and provide habitat for a huge array of reef life. They are also are extremely sensitive to high sea temperatures. 2017
A mixed school of herbivorous parrotfishes and rabbitfishes graze algae on the reef during the morning. 2018
The complex branching structures of staghorn coral colonies make them an excellent refuge and habitat for many small fish and other marine species. 2017
Eddie, a coral gardener for South Sea Reef Rehab, checks growth on a steel structure. "It 's similar to my own garden, he says. Just like my vegetables, the corals are very sensitive - they don't like sudden changes in temperature."
A black tip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in the shallows of Daplac Bay. The conservation status of this species is Near Threatened. 2018
The sandy shallows of the coral garden are a haven for juvenile fishes such as these fingerlings and young oxeye scad. 2018
High tide in the shallows of Boayan Island. 2017
The coral garden created by South Sea Reef Rehab has become a sanctuary for many species of juvenile fish. Small schools of fingerlings are often to be found in the shallows. 2017
Cardinalfishes on a steel structure which was installed four years previously. 2019
A healthy mixture of species are beginning to thrive in areas where coral has been planted directly onto the seabed.
Ditchay Roxas freedives to checks coral growth in the deeper areas of the coral garden. 2017
A turbinaria coral growing in the deeper parts of the coral garden. 2017
A parrotfish swims alongside a large school of oxeye scad (Selar boops) in the shallows of the coral garden. 2018
A critically endangered hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) rests on the seabed of the coral garden. Since it became a protected area and no take zone in 2012, Daplac Bay has become a haven for marine life, especially for species endangered by anthropogenic factors. 2017
Project founder Ditchay Roxas dives to check coral growth. 2017
Areas outside the coral garden are gradually coming back to life. 2017
A school of scad in the shallows of Boayan Island. 2017
A moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) swims over part of the coral garden. Moon wrasses all begin their lives as females and eventually change into males. 2019
A school of juvenile oxeye scad (Selar boops) shelter in the shallows of the coral garden. Upon maturity the scad will leave the safety of the Marine Protected Area in Daplac Bay for the open sea.. 2018
A mixed school of herbivorous parrotfishes and rabbitfishes graze algae on the coral reef at sunset. 2018
Moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) swim over the steel structures of the coral garden. 2017
A mixed school of parrotfishes and rabbitfishes graze on the coral reef at sunset. 2018
A black tip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) surveys a school of oxeye scad (Selar boops) in the shallows of the coral garden in Daplac Bay. 2018
Oxeye scad (Selar boops). 2018