How to grow a coral reef: the Wuzhizhou experience
For the past decade, Wang Aimin and his team from Hainan University have quietly cultivated a coral reef off the coast of Wuzhizhou Island, an idyllic tropical location not far from Sanya City.
Established with a foundation of giant concrete frames, the coral quickly began to grow… and with the coral came the fish. The project was so successful that it is now four times its original area of 1,000 mu (67 hectares).
A professor at the College of Ocean Sciences at Hainan University, Wang specializes in shellfish farming. But since 2009, he has also led a team responsible for developing “marine ranching” along the coast of Hainan. This is part of a larger national movement to explore how artificial reefs could help restore marine environments and promote a sustainable ‘blue economy’.
What is marine farming?
Often used to refer to the rearing of fish, crustaceans and algae at sea, 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. As of 2019, it has been listed as a model marine ranch nationwide – an example for others to follow.
One of its main successes has been working with businesses. The project is jointly funded by the Wuzhizhou Tourism Company and the 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 a sort of destination, with tourists coming to dive and fish. For Wang, the lesson is clear: if a marine ranch is to have sustainable ecological benefits, it must also generate economic benefits.