R.A.R.E. Coral Garden Day Trip
Monday we got up at 5:30am, looked out the window, and sighed with relief. The sky looked clear and it seemed like a perfect day for snorkeling at the coral garden.
We arrived at the dive shop by Long Dong five minutes past 10am. The other carpool party already had their swim gear on, we quickly suited up and followed our instructor for a short snorkeling 101 class. We arrived at the retired outdoor abalone pools (successfully farmed 20 years ago until a virus killed them off) with excitement. It is structured like a big swimming pool divided into four cross sections and connected to the ocean through underwater openings. We took a couple of group shots admiring the ocean view against the backdrop of lush green mountains. A few of us nervously stepped down the ladder into the water, a yelp of “It’s cold” filled the comfortable sea air followed by giggles.
Elaine the founder of the coral garden under the name of Taiwan Mountain Ocean Angel Environmental Protection Association (山海天使環境保育協會) has been building her coral dream garden since 2014 as the recipient of an “I have a dream” grant. Six years later the coral she has grown has blossomed into a beautiful garden. This year the coral suffers from high ocean temperatures; and a tent like covering is stretched across the pools to provide some shade. From above we could see the stark white of bleaching coral glistening between the aquamarine blues of the water.
We all took a break and stepped out of the pool to listen and see a demonstration of how the coral was grown. An orange tray with different sized coral pieces were laid out, a 2.5cm thick roll of white nylon string stood at the side. The species of coral Elaine mainly grows is stag horn and stony coral, both branching shaped corals; they are considered fast growing coral that is easiest to “farm” or “plant”. The overall purpose of the program was to restore the neighboring coral reefs in the vicinity. Some scientists liken coral reefs to, “underwater rain forests” that supports over 25% of marine life. They cover less than 1 percent of the oceans, dying at great rates with already half lost in the past few decades. A color coded color card is used to detect the health of the coral. A few in the tray were not so healthy and green algae had already started to take over their faded color.
A traditional method of stringing coral is used here; the nylon cord is “untwisted”, opened up, and the selected coral is inserted in such a way that it securely hangs in place; within six months the corals show sign of growth ready to be planted after a year and a half or two. This year 2020 is the first year over 30 pieces have been planted in selected neighboring areas.
After the educational section of our visit was over we were led back into the water to tour all three sections of the coral garden. The sections were broken up into three stages of growth. The underwater view was breathtaking to see, with many hidden marine creature using the coral garden as their home nursery. From 2cm clown fishes to crabs and sea slugs it was magical.
Our stomachs signaled lunch time. We took a last look at the pool watching the waves crash into the wall sensing a change of weather. I was glad we skipped the open water portion of our visit. We took a few more pictures thanking Elaine and her team for our morning exploration. We hit the showers quickly and moved ourselves to Fulong where we parked ourselves at the Scubar for the afternoon.
During our wait we set up a table outside and tried our hand at coral fabric rubbings with acrylic. We shared how coral is used in science and medicine, how corals are generally identified and where they are located in the world. Just to wrap up the educational portion of the day, we framed our pieces and wrote ocean commitments on the back. We hungrily ate our delicious veggie burger with satisfied smiles and could not resist their homemade ice cream selection which was the cherry topping to our day.
As we headed home on the freeway, the trickle of rain started. By evening it became a downpour, I texted a Thank you message to Elaine who responded, “Glad that everyone enjoyed themselves, amazing timing today, we received a warning late afternoon that there was a big typhoon on the coast, good thing we did not go out of the pool today.”
La Benida Hui
R.A.R.E. merges art, education, and science to convey a message of environmental awareness through a variety of programs and mediums. With our unique team we hope to inspire, create, and encourage youths (and older) to participate and recognize that their individual choices have an impact on this planet, the home we all share.