From Issue 3
As many of us know, climate change is already a detriment to many of our environmental biomes today. This includes our marine biome that supplies necessities in life, including the oxygen that we breathe. In response to this, many organizations globally have created different campaigns, projects and initiatives to bring awareness and fight against the effects of climate change on our oceans. One of the most notable organizations is Coral Gardeners.
Coral Gardeners is a globally recognized organization that works on coral restoration on the island of Moorea. They grow and plant resilient corals to restore dying reefs and bring life back to the ocean while trying to bring awareness to people from all corners of the planet. We spoke with Titouan Bernicot, the Founder and CEO of Coral Gardeners, to learn more about coral restoration, their journey, and what’s in store for the future of the organization.
Growing Up By the Ocean
Bernicot grew up on the small island Ahe, near the island Tahiti. Having a house in the middle of a lagoon with coral reefs not only exposed Bernicot to the underwater world but coral reefs from a very young age. Growing up, Bernicot was involved in many water activities such as surfinging, fishing and free diving. At the age of 16, Bernicot went on a surfing trip and experienced bleached coral for the first time.
“My island friends and I were surprised because normally the coral purple, red, orange, brown and thai time, all the colors were bleached,” he said. Bernicot and his friends went home and researched what was wrong with the coral. That’s when they discovered that coral reefs around the world were dying due to the effects of climate change.
During this research, not only did Bernicot find out how corals were dying but how vital our oceans are for our livelihood. He explained that corals are giving us everything we need in our lives — from the reef wreck waves we surf on, the food we eat, and the tourism that helps with the economy. In fact, more than half of the oxygen we breathe wherever we are on the planet comes from the ocean with a healthy coral reef.
Starting Coral Gardeners
From his research, Bernicot became passionate about the topic and wanted to take action. He realized that no one was addressing the crisis that the corals were and still are facing, so he decided that he would be the one to act. From this, Coral Gardeners was born. “I started planting corals when I was sixteen years old after discovering the reef was dying,” says Bernicot. “I met a guy that was planting corals and I decided to join him. From then, I was hooked.”
In order to give the proper focus to his organization, Bernicot dropped out of university to fulfill his passion, saving the coral reefs. He gathered a team that included his island friends, local fishermen and school students. From there, Bernicot and his small team created a small scale coral farm with the colors of the rainbow. Since then, the organization has only grown (like the corals they’ve planted).
Coral Gardeners Now
In the last five years, Coral gardeners went from having a small team, no social media followers and a small farm to having twenty dedicated full time team members and over half a million followers on Instagram. They have been recognised by National Geographic and have planted over ten thousand corals throughout south polyniesian islands. Bernicot himself was also recognized individually as a Young National Geographic Explorer in 2021. “Being recognized as a National Geographic Explorer was definitely one of the biggest milestones of 2021 since I have been watching National Geographic content all of my life,” Bernicot says. National Geographic have since funded two field expeditions in the surrounding remote islands and welcomes Coral Gardeners as part of the National Geographic family.
One of the most successful initiatives from the organization so far has been the coral adoption program. This program is where people can adopt corals online and track the evolution of their coral. Through this program, the organization has raised about two million dollars in just a couple of years. The money from this initiative goes towards funding expedition trips and training opportunities for the organization.
By 2025, the organization is striving to have planted one million corals around the world. Bernicot did admit that it is a heavy goal, however, they have already planted 10,000 corals over the last four to five years. The plan of action is to open up international branches to replicate their programs being implemented currently. Bernicot believes that replicating the program that they have at the moment can help other places, especially small islands that rely on their coral reefs.
While having this massive goal, the organization wants to continue focusing on raising global awareness and empowering local communities. “At some point, we need to stop the stressor like global warming being the main reason why coral reefs are dying around the world,” Bernicot says. “We need to make sure that people understand this first and then they can take action and also use the power of technology and innovation to better understand the reef ecosystem and the ocean so that we can better protect it.”
On the topic of potential climate change solutions, Bernicot believes in the power of education. “It’s about educating yourself, spreading the word and innovation,” he says. Bernicot also believes that using renewable energy and reducing our carbon footprints by cutting back on red meat and reducing our plastic consumption are all daily things that we can implement to help to protect our ocean. With these small but meaningful changes, Bernicot believes everyone will need to play their part, and that climate change can’t be an individual fight.
How to Get Involved
If you’re interested in getting involved and helping Coral Gardeners on their mission, there are several different ways to do so. You can follow their social media accounts and visit their website to adopt a coral or just simply donate, ensuring the organization will be able to develop further projects for the sake of coral (and our planet).
More like this
EP. 1 With Titouan Bernicot, Founder Coral Gardeners
Born on Mo’orea, a small atoll island, Titouan Bernicot has always been connected to the ocean. At age 16, he witnessed the devastation of coral reefs around his island and took it as a challenge to save the reef. Today, he has ambitious plans to plant one million corals with his organization, Coral Gardeners.
Dejea Lyons was born and raised in the beautiful Cayman Islands. Growing up on an island fostered her deep love for the ocean and the water, as well as a deep concern for the ocean’s health. She is the vice-president of Protect Our Future, a youth led organization in the Cayman Islands.
Listen to Titouan and Dejea speak about their shared experience as island kids and their plans for a healthier future and read more in Issue 3 of OH-Wake Magazine, The Wisdom in Water.
The episode is made with generous support from Princess Polly