What do you need to start a garden?

Most common answers include dirt, seeds, water and sunlight, maybe a shovel. This is correct if you are trying to grow plants in your backyard, however the garden I want to start is for animals…

From March 14-16, I attended a training workshop on coral gardening, and now I hope to grow coral, a sessile marine animal, within the province of Romblon. Necessary inputs for gardening coral include 4in steel nails, mallet, zipties, pliers, saltwater, rocky substrate, and sunlight.* Branching corals are ideal for gardening because they are fast growing and can reproduce asexually from a fragment broken off a larger colony.

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Important note: No live corals were broken for the purpose of garden building! Instead we dove around a reef in search of already broken, but still living branching coral fragments, which we aptly called, “Corals of Opportunity” or CFOs. The CFOs may have been fragmented by boat anchors or local swimmers and will die unless they find a new anchor along the ocean floor.

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Before receiving my certification as an expert coral gardener, I participated in a land-based practicum.

Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.

While underwater, the nails are hammered into rock until secure. Then, a coral fragment is tightly fastened to the nail with a ziptie. Don’t forget to cut off any additional plastic from the ziptie, otherwise algae may begin to grow and invade your coral.

For smaller coral fragments, a Coral Nursery Unit may be built in shallower waters. The nursery is useful to give the fragments a head start in growing before transfer to the reef. It is also useful to ensure you have a consistent supply of coral fragments for long-term gardening.

Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.
Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.

As gorgeous and as tempting as it was to explore the depths of the gorgeous coral wall close to our site, instead the tasks of searching, hammering, fastening and cutting to create a new coral garden in the reef shallows was a much better use of the 3000psi of air in each of my 4 SCUBA tanks. By the conclusion of our 3-day workshop, 25 Peace Corps volunteers and 25 Filipino counterparts built 3 coral nursery units and attached over 100 coral fragments to a shallow, rocky reef in front of JPark Hotel on Mactan Island in Cebu. Go CRM!!!**

*Alternative methods include securing a large rope net to the ocean bottom and tying coral fragments so the entire net will grow into a continuous reef at the conclusion of the project.

**CRM or Coastal Resource Management is the title of the Peace Corps sector that I am a part of. Other possible sectors include Education or Children, Youth & Family (CYF).

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3 thoughts on “What do you need to start a garden?”

  1. Wow – I had no idea you could “transplant” coral like that. What a fascinating project. How long total did you spend under water to attach coral fragments?? After you emptied one of your tanks, did you resurface, or start another tank to keep working?

    1. Our dives were about an hour long each, at which point most people we running out of air (I still had about half a tank and my dive team leader has determined that I do not breath, haha). We were working in fairly shallow water (~20ft), therefore air supply, not nitrogen build up in the blood was our limiting factor for staying down.

      I miss you!!! I am traveling this week for a conference on seahorses, but I’m hoping that the accommodations have good wifi so maybe we could skype?! If not, sometime when I am back at site in Romblon. When are you coming to the Philippines?!

      1. Hey! Just saw your reply…oops! I would love to Skype you; if you ever have time and good internet connection, send me an e-mail to let me know when you can meet on Skype! My work e-mail is nikki.karn@stuartolson.com (best if you send me a msg there, so it pops up on my phone). And my Skype is nikki.karn.
        Looks like you are 14 hours ahead.
        Evenings (5 pm – 10 pm) and weekends are best to catch me. Or even at 6 am for me, 8 pm for you.
        Hope we can make it work 🙂

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