Coral reefs are among the most diverse natural ecosystems on earth, as the home to a quarter of all marine species. Not just that, coral reefs provide many important services in the form of coastal protection, food security, recreation and livelihoods, supporting extensive fisheries and tourism industries across many tropical coastal nations. However, they are increasingly threatened by human activities and many reefs have already been lost or are being degraded at an alarming rate.
Tokyo Cement Group is deeply involved in coral reef conservation for nearly a decade, making it one of their keystone environmental sustainability initiatives. The Cement Giant formed a consortium of partners to share expertise to restore the severely threatened Coral Reef barrier along the Sri Lankan shoreline. These like-minded environmentalist organizations each bring in a complementing set of knowledge and experience to provide a holistic and sustainable solution to curb the depletion of corals.
Highlighting the sense of urgency in taking immediate and progressive action, Salinda Kandapola, Corporate Manager – Sustainability at Tokyo Cement Company (Lanka) PLC said, “Corals are diminishing very fast. If we don’t act immediately, the damage is irreversible.”
Setting off the programme along the North-Eastern coastline from Pasikudah, Kayankerni, Dutch Bay, all the way up to Jaffna, the Company started deploying
Reef balls; hollow concrete structures that act as substrate for new corals and marine life to grow on and form habitats around. These Reef ball structures are made in-house, using recycled concrete waste from their Ready-Mix Concrete plants.
Before the corals begin to grow, the Reef balls attract young fish who seek shelter from larger prey, which ultimately leads to the formation of fish communities. Since inception, the Programme has deployed over 1,000 Reef balls along the Sri Lankan coastline in places where the coral barrier is severely damaged, effectively creating a natural extension of the marine ecosystems. This initiative reaching its ultimate goal, has helped breathe new life into over 60 species of coral in Pasikudah.
One of the foundations of the initiative is to include scientific research to understand the causes of reef degradation and resilient, identify priority areas for conservation and develop appropriate management measures. As part of this plan, the Company also funds research, education and awareness building related to coral reef conservation. Research supported by Tokyo Cement is supporting improved management of coral reefs around the country. The project conducts a range of activities including gathering data on coral and reef fish distribution, reef based fisheries, coral reef mapping, oceanographic monitoring, research symposiums, and engaging communities including fishermen, school children, university students and tourism stakeholders.
Over the years, Tokyo Cement has taken a multi-pronged approach to facilitate scientific and practical methodologies to achieve meaningful results. These include the development of solutions-oriented action plans through research, helping to establish best practices and building awareness, and encouraging greater participation of local communities.
“We work with likeminded people, using their talents, expertise and experience. Independent groups, university and research students, and local fishing communities are involved in our activities, making them stakeholders of our collective achievements,” Kandapola elaborated.
The key partners of this initiative include the Wildlife Research and Conservation Trust (WRCT), the Blue Resources Trust (BRT), Sri Lanka Navy and the Foundation of Goodness. The Company also assists government institutions such as the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and the Department of Wildlife Conservation in their scientific research and data collection efforts in addition to forging international links with coral conservation entities.
Describing the assistance received from the Navy, Kandapola said, “The Sri Lanka Navy is one of our biggest supporters. They provide the essential manpower to reach all parts of our coastline to expand the impact of our conservation efforts. The project included training a dedicated diving team from the SL Navy who were trained by our scientific project partners on Reef ball planting, coral nursery establishment and maintenance. Through law enforcement they prevent illegal dynamite fishing which is detrimental to corals and also contribute in education and awareness creation efforts that enable the project to have a far-reaching impact.”
Sri Lanka Navy plays a vital role in deploying these Reef Balls, along Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kalpitiya and Galle, in specific areas carefully identified by the scientific partners BRT and WRCT to replenish and maintain our natural coral diversity. Each site maintains a coral nursery where new coral nubbins are nurtured under controlled conditions, until they are planted on reef balls that gets deployed. Foundation of Goodness’ diving training arm ‘Dive Sri Lanka, Dive Seenigama’ helps extend the programme to the Southern coast by engaging in reef ball deployment, coral planting and aftercare. Most importantly, they conduct awareness sessions targeting the local community and school children against coral mining and get them involved in actual coral reef rehabilitation.
Nishan Perera, Marine Biologist and Co-Founder of the Blue Resources Trust explained, “We have been supporting Tokyo Cement with their coral reef conservation program which includes research, education and reef restoration. They have a long-term commitment and have worked tirelessly to achieve something including funding a wider programme incorporating research. Tokyo Cement understands that research takes times, it is not glamorous. But it is the best approach to ensure more focused and outcome-oriented impact through conservation. Overall they have contributed to other marine research and conservation in Sri Lanka”
Elaborating on BRT’s role, he said, “We assist them as a technical partner, bringing scientific expertise and research experience, helping to support these efforts with more scientific knowledge, making it more robust and scientifically better.”
Commenting on Tokyo Cement’s comprehensive project work, Perera added, “Apart from the restoration, Tokyo Cement has contributed to establishing a field research station and long term research projects in Pasikudah, as well as education and capacity building. They have supported student internships for Sri Lankan undergraduate students, which is a huge step in building capacity and developing a new generation of Sri Lankan marine scientists.”
The project has contributed towards a significant national milestone with the declaration of the Kayankerni Marine Sanctuary in 2019, with long term monitoring and reef mapping through the BRT – Tokyo Cement partnership forming the baseline for developing a management plan for the area, and thus directly contributing to policy development.
“As an outcome of the Tokyo Cement programme, we were able to establish a long term research programme in Kayankerni, and are very proud to be one of the players in the process to declare a new marine protected area in Sri Lanka,” he noted.
Through the Tokyo Cement and BRT partnership, collaborative research with foreign scientists are conducted, research into shark and manta rays in Sri Lanka and developing policy is being accomplished, work is also ongoing together with the Fisheries Department in developing regulations and fishing policy through technical expertise – again of national importance. The financial assistance provided by Tokyo Cement has enabled BRT to run core programmes, partner other agencies building far-reaching multiple programmes, and contribute vastly to overall marine conservation over the years. “The single biggest positive of working with Tokyo Cement for us is having greater long-term impact and outcomes, to see it through to the end working on a specific issue and get it done,” Perera added.
Tokyo Cement’s deep involvement in coral conservation is to achieve long term engagement, which is key to success of the project. According to Kandapola, attitudinal change, growing more corals and supporting scientific research are vital. “Our future goal is to strengthen these partnerships, propagation of scientific and ecological knowledge, dissemination of lessons learnt, helping our scientific partners to present these data at various symposiums and interest groups that help educate future generations. We want to send the message that everyone should do all that we can, from where we are, to make a real impact in the areas we are deeply passionate about; starting from the critically endangered ecosystems.”
Coral Reef Conservation is among the many sustainability initiatives Tokyo Cement Group has undertaken. They include a mangroves reforestation program, where the company collaborates, again, with the Sri Lanka Navy to replant mangrove saplings along the Eastern coastline of Sri Lanka. The company’s commitment to social responsibility breathes life through initiatives such as this, by which they successfully integrate social welfare and environmental conservation into its corporate DNA as part of their continuous mission to enrich the country, its people and the environment.