News & Views

Tourisme Tahiti Impact Story: Planting a Seed with Coral Gardeners

When DCI signed Tourisme Tahiti, they specified their desire to highlight other stories, beyond the 5-star resorts. “We took it to heart from the very beginning,” says Amalia Mehiti, the lead for Tourisme Tahiti. “From day one we were on the lookout for authentic experiences to share with the world.”

On a trip to Tahiti in 2018, Amalia met a young Tahitian, Titouan Bernicot, at a local tourism conference and was intrigued by what he and his friends were doing.

These young men had grown up on Mo’orea and had witnessed first-hand the rapid degradation of the coral reefs surrounding the island due to climate change, overfishing, and unwitting tourists. They were shocked by how quickly the colorful corals beneath them had turned to white and, within a few days, perished.

So they researched what was happening and discovered just how much the entire balance of the oceans — and indeed of life on earth — was tied to the health of the reefs.

And they decided to do something.

Titouan founded a nonprofit called Coral Gardeners with a two-fold mission: to raise awareness on the importance of coral reefs and to work at restoring them.

Coral reefs are like the rainforests of the ocean. Through a symbiotic relationship between a calcareous exoskeleton and a vast array of millions of algae, coral reefs make up colorful underwater forests that are home to 25% of marine life (despite covering less than 1% of the oceans).

And their effects extend beyond the shoreline. The oceans — including coral’s algae — produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe while absorbing carbon dioxide. Plus, the biodiversity of marine life in coral reefs directly supports over 500 million people worldwide and generates $36 billion in tourism dollars annually.

Yet without our help, scientists estimate that the coral reefs of the world could disappear by 2050.

That day, back in 2018, Titouan was at the trade show to promote Coral Gardeners to Tahitians. His aim was to educate locals about the natural wonder they have in their front yard, so to speak, and to give them a way to help rebuild them.

Titouan and his team had begun gathering broken pieces of coral and placing them into bamboo plugs that were held in an underwater wireframe table where they could acclimate and grow. In a few weeks, when the coral had grown around the bamboo, almost like roots spreading, the team would drill a hole in a dead piece of coral (the exoskeleton) and transplant the healthy coral plug to proliferate (since then their restoration technique has changed and they now focus on super corals that they cement directly onto the reef).

To fund their efforts, they’d created an “Adopt a Coral” program, where for a $25 donation Coral Gardeners will plant a coral in someone’s name and present them with a “certificate of adoption,” complete with GPS coordinates of the coral and a photo ID.

A few months later, as the year drew to a close and thoughts turned to gratitude and giving around the holidays, Amalia had an idea. What if DCI “adopted” coral as gifts for journalists and travel companies?

“When I look at the islands of Tahiti, I think of longevity and want many generations to come to enjoy them,” she says. “And a partnership with Coral Gardeners seemed like the perfect step towards that.”

Amalia worked with the Tahiti Tourisme team to choose 80 top tier journalists and tour/travel companies who sell to Tahiti. Then they worked with Coral Gardeners to produce certificates for each of them.

“That small investment created a domino effect in tourism. Now tour companies and travelers know about Coral Gardener and want to go plant coral,” says Amalia. “This was one of those stories that just keeps giving back. It planted the seed for something that continues to grow.”

As Titouan says, “When you have passion for something and you dream big, you can create great things.”

If you’d like to Adopt a Coral through Coral Gardeners, click here.

Written By

Amalia Meliti

Amalia has fifteen years of destination marketing experience, having worked in both the travel trade and earned media space for destinations throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. She currently directs DCI’s travel trade marketing efforts in both the U.S. and Canada.

More Articles by Amalia Meliti

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