How to grow a coral reef: the Wuzhizhou experiment

A boat carries artificial reefs to a marine ranch off Hainan (Image: Chen Mingzhi / ChinaBlue Sustainability Institute)

CHINA DIALOGUE OCEANZhang Chun September 27, 2021

For the past decade, Wang Aimin and his team at Hainan University have quietly been growing a coral reef off Wuzhizhou island, an idyllic tropical spot not far from the city of Sanya.

Established with a foundation of giant concrete frames, the coral quickly began to grow… and with the coral came the fish. The project has been so successful it’s now four times its original area of 1,000 mu (67 hectares).

A professor at Hainan University’s College of Ocean Sciences, Wang’s specialism is shellfish farming. But since 2009, he has also led a team in charge of developing “marine ranching” along Hainan’s coast. This is part of a wider national move to explore how artificial reefs might help restore marine environments and promote a sustainable “blue economy”.

What is marine ranching?

Often used to refer to the offshore farming of fish, shellfish and seaweed, the term also describes the rehabilitation of damaged habitats using artificial reefs.

The Wuzhizhou marine ranch was China’s first in tropical waters; most of the country’s other experimental ranches are further north, along the coasts of the Bohai and Yellow seas. Since 2019, it’s been listed as a model marine ranch at the national level – an example for others to follow.

One of its key successes has been the collaboration with business. The project is jointly funded by the Wuzhizhou Tourism Company and local government, with the company responsible for day-to-day management and Wang’s team providing technical support. Thanks to the artificial reefs, the island has become something of a destination, with tourists coming to dive and fish. For Wang, the lesson is clear: if a marine ranch is to have lasting ecological benefits, it has to generate economic benefits too.



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