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The Big Build: Reef-star dives in overdrive 

Freediving to locate stars during The Big Build (Madeline St Clair / Mars / Ocean Culture Life)
Freediving to locate reef stars during The Big Build (Madeline St Clair / Mars / Ocean Culture Life)

“One of the largest coral-restoration events in history” – that’s how pet-food and confectionary manufacturer Mars Inc describes “The Big Build”, an initiative that saw 30,000 corals planted and a 2,500sq m reef created in the space of four days in Indonesia’s biodiverse Spermonde archipelago.

Mars hopes that the event will lead to a million new corals being planted by the end of this year – because the idea was to introduce experts from different fields to its coral-propagation system, in the hope of jump-starting similar projects all over Indonesia.  

The Big Build was part of the SHEBA Hope Grows initiative, which began in the archipelago off South Sulawesi in 2021. This has involved more than 500 individuals restoring its coral reefs, aiming to cover an area of more than 185,000sq m by 2029.

The project is already said to have resulted in significant increases in coral growth (from 2% to 70%), fish population (260%) and numbers of fish species (64%). 

The Sheba Hope Grows project has been running for two years (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)
The SHEBA Hope Grows project has been running for two years (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)

Mars Sustainable Solutions (MSS) says that while it already leads one of the world’s largest coral-planting programmes, the mass “train the trainer” aspect of The Big Build marked it out as a new departure. 

It brought together 100 individuals from 17 Indonesian conservation and science partners across government, NGOs, businesses and local communities at Makassar in South Sulawesi from 9-15 July, to show them how to implement the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System. 

MARSS makes use of “reef stars”, which since 2011 are said to have been shown to restore damaged reefs faster, on a larger scale and more cheaply than other approaches. The hexagonal sand-coated steel structures are located with their attached coral fragments across barren coral-rubble fields, with experienced teams of four divers able to install up to 500 stars in two days. 

Setting out new reef stars during The Big Build (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)
Setting out new reef stars during The Big Build (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)

“The MARRS-trained teams provided advanced training to participants to enhance the global capacity to deliver coral restoration at scale and to accelerate the pace of change that is possible – and needed,” said MSS. “Participants are now equipped to implement the MARRS technique to build new coral reefs across the Indonesian archipelago to the benefit of their communities.” 

The international MSS programme now extends to some 30 reefs across 10 countries and five continents, with more than 60,000 reef stars installed and 900,000 coral fragments planted to date. 

Community members participate in preparing the reef stars (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)
Community members participate in preparing the reef stars (Mars / Ocean Culture Life)

“I am so proud to be part of The Big Build, because there are so many people and partners from outside Bontosua, from across Makassar and Indonesia, that come to the island and help the local Bontosuan community with coral restoration,” said Farhan, from the Bontosuan restoration team that participated in The Big Build. 

“We are now one of the only islands in the Pangkep region that has received this level of Indonesia-wide recognition and engagement,” he went on. “The Big Build and coral reef restoration is so important to our island, as healthy coral reefs provide critical coastal protection and support the livelihoods and food supply.”

Also on Divernet: How catfood spells hope for corals, Coral crash: can our reefs be saved?, Coral farmers reshaping the future, What will it take for coral to survive?

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