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Image of the project to repopulate the Maro-Cerro Gordo cliff area with orange coral. SUR
Pioneering project to repopulate Costa del Sol cliff area with threatened coral launched
Nature

Pioneering project to repopulate Costa del Sol cliff area with threatened coral launched

The artificial reef will be located off the Molino de Papel beach in the Maro-Cerro Gordo area shared by Malaga and Granada provinces

Eugenio Cabezas

Nerja

Wednesday, 29 May 2024

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The orange coral, or ‘astroides calycularis’ as is its scientific name, is a species that lives exclusively in the Mediterranean Sea. It is currently under great threat due to pollution, rising sea temperatures and the proliferation of invasive exotic specie, such as the Asian brown alga Rugulopteryx okamurae, which has been spreading throughout the Spanish Mediterranean since 2016. As a result, the orange coral is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ in the national list of threatened and is listed in the annexes of the Bern, Barcelona and CITES conventions.

However, now a pioneering new programme aims to help the population of orange coral in the area. The MedCoral Programme of the Seville-based NGO Hombre y Territorio (HyT) has been developing a programme of knowledge, conservation and protection of corals in the Mediterranean for 15 years. The NGO's scientists have developed innovative techniques that contribute to the survival of this species and are being successfully applied in the creation of artificial reefs. Imagin, the digital services and lifestyle platform promoted by CaixaBank, is collaborating with the project.

The project which began in May 2023 with the creation of the first artificial reef of orange corals in Europe in the Maro-Cerro Gordo cliffs, shared by the towns of Nerja in Malaga province and Almuñécar in Granada province, is now growing and evolving with a new reef in Nerja which will have 60,000 new corals. This was explained on Wednesday 29 May at the presentation of the project by Alexis Terrón, from Hombre y Territorio.

With the creation of this new reef, imagin and HyT are continuing to promote the recovery of this species of coral which is native to the Mediterranean and is being threatened by pollution and climate change. The 60,000 corals of the new reef in Nerja, which will be located some 500 metres from the coast on the Molino de Papel beach, are in addition to the 60,000 that have already been introduced in Almuñécar, where last year four coral gardens were created on a total surface area of 52 square metres.

This area in Granada has now become an official dive site. Both reefs are located in the natural area of Maro-Cerro Gordo, between the provinces of Malaga and Granada, and the aim is to establish an interconnected corridor of coral reefs along the Andalusian coastline.

Sexual reproduction

Colonies of coral that have become detached from the area are rescued. Once detached, they will not survive, according to Terrón. In addition, during the reproductive period, the team of biologists at HyT collects some of the released corals and ‘seeds’ them in the artificial reefs. Large concrete blocks that were submerged in the area more than 15 years ago to stop trawler boats are being used to help grow the coral.

Terrón explained that sexual reproduction of the orange coral “only takes place once a year and in very particular conditions, with a full moon and water temperature between 18 and 20 degrees.” As such when the conditions are right sexual reproduction takes place and, after a period of time, the fertilised females expel thousands of larvae which have a low chance of survival. According to the biologist, the moment of reproduction this year will take place on 24 June; the next full moon, when the larvae will be collected and ‘seeded’ in the new artificial reef located on Nerja's Molino de Papel beach.

Although the recovery of corals is the responsibility of HyT's scientific team, imagin's support for the project is essential for the study, monitoring and maintenance of these reefs. Sergio Díaz, head of Engagement & Teens at imagin says the company will “once again involve its community of users through various actions in which they can join to help the survival and growth of the orange coral gardens”.

HyT pointed out that the seas and oceans cover 70 per cent of the earth's surface and are home to millions of species and the largest carbon sinks in existence, so that they alone can absorb around half of carbon dioxide emissions. However, they are also one of the environments most affected by plastic pollution and the effects of global warming. The regeneration of marine ecosystems and the protection of their biodiversity are essential to contributing to the health of the oceans.

The creation of the Almuñécar reef in May 2023 has managed to triple the number of species living in the area and attract 90 new species of marine organisms, from fish (bream, mullet and lemon fish, among others), to crustaceans (spider and hermit crabs), mammals (bottlenose dolphins) and molluscs (common octopus), according to HyT.

Presentation of the project at the Nerja cave restaurant on Wednesday 29 May.
Presentation of the project at the Nerja cave restaurant on Wednesday 29 May. E. Cabezas

The presentation of the project, which was held in the Cueva de Nerja restaurant, was attended by Gerardo Cuartero, sales director of CaixaBank in Malaga, Cordoba and Almeria; Sergio Díaz, head of Engagement & Teens at imagin; Javier Rodríguez, councillor for the environment and public health at Nerja town hall; María Penélope Gómez, councillor for environmental sustainability at Malaga city hall and José Antonio Víquez from the Junta de Andalucía’s sustainability department, among others.

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