Roberta Davis

by Rob Kay

Corals will return to damaged reefs eventually, if all the ecological factors are present. However, when most are destroyed, regeneration can take as long as 50 years. She learned from’s visiting photographer, Scott Putnam, that live coral can be replanted.  You simply take the broken pieces on the sea floor and place them into pukas on the reef. The idea originated in the aquarium trade, where broken small pieces of coral called “frags” are replanted on live rock.

The practice can yield to spectacular results in just a few years. A little planting can protect the corals from their predators and can go a long way in helping reefs rebound. More importantly scientists have recently discovered that corals send out chemical signals that indicate a particular area is safe to populate. Other species of corals will answer the call and migrate into the area.

Roberta decided, she didn’t have fifty years to wait for the reef to mend itself.

Immediately after learning the replanting drill, she logged about 200 free dives to make certain replanting actually worked in the wild. To her relief and it did. She has made thousands of free dives since then which consist of picking up coral fragments off the sea floor and planting them. She reports a 90 per cent survival rate for the coral fragments which “take-off like a shot within 4 weeks once they take root.” She’s also engaged the local population to get involved.Every Sunday, Roberta and a small group ofMakaira staff and teenage boys from the nearby village, plant coral fragments on the reef. Even resort guests have joined in.

Roberta in action planting coral just offshore from her home
 Her favorite guest moment was right after the cyclone, when a thirteen year-old boy joined the Sunday coral gardening event. At this early stage the pounded reef was just bare rocks and coral fragments. The boy earnestly asked Roberta if he could plant his very own little reef. She smiled, shook her head and said “pick anywhere you like and knock yourself out”.

With much enthusiasm he planted what is now magnificent little reef, which makes her smile every time she takes guests on a snorkel tour.

Not bad for a front yard in Taveuni

Guests who would like to indulge in reef gardening are greatly appreciated. Generally Roberta will go out with them and pick an area where they can plant their own section of reef. They mark their territory with a fair amount of colorful, blue staghorn acrophora corals. Upon their return, guests can see the stunning results. Blue-green Chromis occupy the burgeoning coral and the rest of the reef fish population is catching up. Once guests see the fruits of their labor, they immediately schedule time to plant more corals.

Like the transplanted coral, the 50-something Kalani High School grad and her Big Island husband have surely taken root in the Garden Island of Fiji.

Rob Kay is the author of For more information on Roberta Davis and John Llanes resort visit Makaira online.