Embracing Coral Conservation on
by Rianne Laan, Resident Marine Biologist of Thanda Island
As travelers to Thanda Island quickly discover, the private island surrounded by the clear waters of the Indian Ocean offers a raft of privileges, among them an island host team, a helicopter pilot, and an activities staff on call to create bespoke itineraries for every guest. While the island’s villa is stunning and the choice of activities endless, the real showstopper is the ocean and its many denizens. The island sits in a private marine sanctuary, which becomes the guests’ personal marine reserve for the duration of their stay.
I gauge each visitor’s interest in marine activities. The deeper they want to go, the further I’ll take them – metaphorically, of course. Not everyone shares my passion, but many do. If I see an opportunity to engage guests with the ocean and all of its wonders, I will try to expand on this initial curiosity.
Snorkeling the Reef
Most guests are interested in snorkeling the Thanda Island house reef, a five-minute boat ride from the villa. It’s perfect for snorkelers of every age and experience. It’s also where our coral nurseries are located. Coral nurseries are underwater structures where we grow corals to outplant and restore reef resilience. It’s a lovely underwater destination to visit, not least because of the many fish that are attracted to the nursery structures. We have different kinds of structures, including one, fairly common, that looks like coral fragments hung as ornaments on a tree. The pieces float freely in the ocean for 6 to 12 months to reach maturity.
Visiting the nursery is an ideal introduction to marine conservation and reef restoration. The underwater world fascinates guests once they have seen it with their own eyes. The nurseries are a great conversation starter, too, and visitors usually want to hear and learn more. I am always there to show, teach, and expose them to my daily work. We also offer The Marine Life of Shungimbili Island Marine Reserve, our guide to the marine life of the reserve, to anyone that can’t get enough about Indian Ocean marine life.
Of course, I am always available for questions or a chat about my work, including coral conservation and reef restoration. For guests interested in the background behind reef restoration, I suggest that I can share a presentation or a talk on the topic. We illustrate everything we work on with many pictures and stories to provide a deeper understanding. For travelers that are very active and interested in getting involved, we set up hands-on coral gardening experiences for them to participate in outplanting corals on a frame or attaching fragments to ropes to expand the nursery. Such activities are dependent on guest preferences and the condition of the nursery, but generally there is always something for them to get involved in.
When I started with Thanda Island in 2017, destructive fishing methods used prior to the island becoming a private destination the previous year had severely degraded the reef. Our conservation work made active protection of the marine reserve by rangers from the Mafia Island Marine Park possible. We always have a marine parks captain and ranger based on the island to make it more convenient for them to patrol the reserve and ensure that no fishing activities take place within its boundaries.
Based on our restoration and preservation, the marine reserve has become a safe home for marine life, and we have seen iconic species such as turtles and eagle rays return. Coral recovery is a slow process, but thankfully we can see that the reef is bouncing back and our active reef restoration work supports this recovery. I started the Thanda Island coral nurseries in 2018. Our work is never static, and we’ve expanded the nursery with new and different structures. We plant nursery-grown corals back onto artificial reefs and the natural reef to aid in the recovery.
Recruiting Local Coral Gardeners
Through the engagement of our guests, we hope they will not only appreciate the beauty of coral reefs but also get a deeper understanding of their fragility and need for conservation. To see coral conservation firsthand and get involved provides a huge change of perspective for many who previously might just have enjoyed snorkeling and watching fish and regarded the coral reefs as some kind of rocks. Now, like us, they can see what an extremely important role they play in the coral reef ecosystem and the Thanda Island experience.