Titouan Bernicot is one in every of Harper’s Bazaar’s 2023 Voices of Now, highlighting 36 forces shaping the cultural dialog.
My childhood was a bit explicit; I spent the primary three years of my life on a small atoll island within the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. My mother and father had been pearl farmers—they grew oysters and harvested Tahitian pearls. That’s nonetheless what they do now, with my little brother, who works with the household as a pearl jewellery designer.
Once I was three, we moved to Tahiti’s sister island, Mo’orea, the place I nonetheless stay at this time. Right here, we grew up browsing, free diving, and spearfishing. I had an enormous ardour for marine life; the ocean rapidly grew to become my playground, my faculty. I discovered all of the fish species by coronary heart once I was somewhat child, however I didn’t know a lot about coral.
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Then at some point, once I was 16, I went browsing; it was an everyday afternoon with all of my island mates and my little brother. We arrived on the surf break on Mo’orea and had been ready for the waves to come back, and for the primary time in my life, I noticed corals—which had been usually orange, brown, or pink—that had turned white. We had been all actually shocked to see this, like, “What’s going on in our ocean?”
I went again to my home, and I made a cellphone name to a marine biologist buddy. I found the bleaching of the corals meant they had been dying. Although they’ve existed for tens of millions of years, we’ve misplaced virtually half the coral reefs on Earth over the course of the previous 70.
And progressively, I noticed corals had been crucial factor in my life; the most effective moments I’d had had been once I was browsing waves the reefs had sculpted for us. Reefs additionally defend our islands from massive storms, appeal to tourism, and—most significantly—are residence to a whole bunch of hundreds of marine species. They’re merely probably the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet. I keep in mind sitting on my chair because it registered that the reefs had been dying so quick, and that no one round me was doing something to assist cease it.
Three weeks after that, I met a marine biologist who launched me to the loopy world of coral gardening and ecosystem restoration. I used to be hooked. I fell in love with the method of selecting my favourite coral, fragmenting it, after which seeing it develop till I replanted it. I believed, That is the good factor I’ve ever carried out.
I began studying and watching all the things I might about saving the reefs. Then I went to speak to a number of the scientists on Mo’orea, which coincidentally occurs to have one of the vital studied marine ecosystems on the earth. UC Berkeley’s Gump Station is there, as is the French analysis lab CRIOBE. I knocked at their doorways and stated, “Guys, I’m 16 years outdated, I fell in love with the coral reef, and I wish to dedicate my life to serving to it. What can I do?”
They checked out me and stated, “Little buddy, settle down. You’re solely 16. You must end highschool, then examine marine biology. Should you’re sensible sufficient, you are able to do an eight-year PhD program after which sit on the desk with us.”
I checked out them and stated, “You might be fucking loopy. I actually respect you, and I like science, however I’m not going to attend eight years.” I advised them that at some point, I might rent them.
After highschool, I first went to enterprise faculty in Paris—however I dropped out and began Coral Gardeners in 2017, once I was 18 years outdated. I did it by gathering a crew of scholars who wanted a yearly faculty challenge—i.e., free workers and volunteers—after which I launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign with the assistance of French Olympic swimmer Florent Manaudou and French actor Lambert Wilson.
Right this moment, Coral Gardeners is probably the most superior, most adopted coral reef restoration and conservation challenge on the planet. We simply opened a nursery in Fiji and are opening areas in Thailand and Puerto Rico quickly. We’ve a crew of fifty full-time workers, together with six marine biologists. They’re the identical kind of people that advised me the one manner for me to work with the reef was to grow to be a scientist. We additionally have two engineers from Tesla, one from SpaceX, and one from Microsoft—and I employed plenty of my childhood mates to be precise coral gardeners, as a result of fishermen are carefully linked to reef ecosystems; they want them to outlive. We actually worth their information, which comes from generations of working within the water. Supporting native communities is on the coronary heart of what we do.
The method of coral gardening is sort of easy, however to do it nicely, you need to have the correct scientists working with you to develop a restoration technique. Step one is to search out heat-resilient corals. We work with scientists to determine mom colonies which can be 40 to 50 years outdated and have survived the most recent bleaching waves, making them stronger. You’ll find them in shallow water, the place the water is hotter, extra acidic, and has extra sediment. When looking for corals to revive a reef, it’s not about discovering a selected species; it’s extra about discovering the correct colonies.
When you’ve discovered heat-resilient corals, the subsequent step is to fragment them. We take not more than 10 % of the mom colony—an quantity that can regrow in about six months, like a lizard tail. That will likely be sufficient to present us 20 to 25 tiny coral fragments, which we place in our nurseries to develop for a interval of 12 to 18 months. Whereas the fragments are rising within the nursery, we measure them, assess their well being, and clear them; it’s plenty of work. The ultimate step is transplanting them again onto a broken reef, utilizing marine cement and little metallic clips. There, they thrive and develop. It’s loopy: Generally you’ll begin in an space the place you see perhaps 100 fish—after which, after three years, there are 10,000. The biodiversity improve over time is simply unbelievable.
As of now, we’ve planted greater than 52,000 corals. We’re going to finish the yr at 100,000 corals, and our aim is to plant 1,000,000 by the top of 2025. This month, we launched our Coral Gardeners Expertise, an ecotourism program through which vacationers from all all over the world can plant corals in French Polynesia and Fiji.
On prime of that, we’re fully revolutionizing the way in which we monitor corals. We’ve a crew of scientists and engineers who work for our analysis and growth heart, CG Labs, and who’re constructing out our AI platform, ReefOS, which makes use of a wide range of instruments to assist us perceive how the reef is evolving in actual time. We’ve an underwater robotic that maps out the structure of the reef and coral protection, in addition to cameras that observe the variety of fish coming again to the reefs we’re restoring, together with the temperature of the water. We even have a program permitting anybody to undertake a coral fragment via our web site for $29, and livestreaming of the coral nursery, so individuals can watch their corals develop.
That adoption program is how we maintain ourselves, in addition to via key companions like Rolex, which helps us via its Perpetual Planet Initiative. Nonetheless, it’s not sufficient. We have to do extra. The El Niño climate phenomenon will make 2024 probably the most difficult yr coral reefs have ever confronted. I’m actually comfortable and pleased with the place Coral Gardeners is at this time—however it must be only the start. To guard our oceans and our planet, we’ve an obligation to maintain on going, and to suppose massive.