The efforts of two Bond University students to save the world’s coral reefs have been rewarded with a $12,700 grant from a Middle Eastern conservation fund, and a study exchange backed by the world's largest non-profit marine-conservation organisation and a multi-national food conglomerate.
Igo Gari, who is completing his PhD in Sustainable Development, and Master of Business student Debora Kocak co-founded Hiri, which recycles plastics and other waste items to be built into “coral frames”. Coral fragments are taken from healthy reefs and attached to the frames, before being left to grow in the ocean and later replanted in areas affected by unsustainable fishing methods or other environmental damage.
Hiri’s initial focus has been on restoring damaged reefs in Gari’s homeland of Papua New Guinea, however the PhD candidate is hopeful that once established, the business model will be able to be replicated globally.
Gari was invited to present at the Reef Futures 2018 conference in Florida late last year.
“It was quite exciting as this was the first global conference on reef restoration dedicated to the science and practice of coral reef restoration and to present to experts from around the world was quite an honour,” he said.
Gari received one of three Coral Restoration Learning Exchange Awards from the Coral Restoration Consortium, given to presenters following a vote from conference attendees. The award allows Gari to travel to Sulawesi in Indonesia in March, where he will work on a local coral restoration project set up by global pet food and confectionary company Mars Incorporated while passing on his own experiences from founding Hiri.
Alongside the exchange, in December Gari received a $12,700 grant from the Abu Dhabi-based Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
The funding will allow Gari and Kocak to scale up the reef restoration work in Papua New Guinea – in April, they plan to return to Bootless Bay, near the capital of Port Moresby, to build about 200 coral frames and plant 3000 coral fragments, as part of the country’s first coral nursery.
The pair will sign a Voluntary Conservation Agreement with the rural communities surrounding Bootless Bay, ensuring the nursery area will be recognised as a fish sanctuary.
“I wanted to start there because I am part of that community, I have a good working relationship with the local people and want to maintain that link,” Gari said.
Gari and Kocak want to partner with a range of different organisations, including government and corporations to empower locals and create more coral ambassador villages.