Coastal Impact: Adopt a coral and help conserve marine biodiversity

Founded by banker-turned-diver and marine conservationist Venkatesh Charloo, Goa's Coastal Impact is promoting the adoption of corals for their conservation. So far, 113 corals have been adopted and they’ve grown six times at the NGO’s nursery since 2021

Aruna Raghuram
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A volunteer from Coastal Impact conducting underwater biodiversity survey. Pic: Coastal Impact

A volunteer from Coastal Impact conducting underwater biodiversity survey. Pic: Coastal Impact

Eleven-year-old Samaira Ram was fascinated by the sea and what existed below its surface. She saw photographs and videos of the colourful and beautiful underwater and was keen on learning diving. Her uncle Siddharth Saini, who manages a business that provides diving equipment and training services, had a novel idea. Why not adopt a coral for her birthday? And when she was older, he could take her diving to check on the coral’s growth. The idea excited Samaira and she organized a bake sale at a fair to raise money to adopt the coral. 

Samaira became the first person to adopt a coral in the ‘Coral Crusaders’ scheme launched by Goa-based NGO Coastal Impact in 2021. The programme involves individuals or companies adopting a coral fragment for a year for a sum. 

The money collected through coral adoption is used for its transplantation and care, conserving marine biodiversity. 

The not-for-profit has around 15 volunteers who work on multiple projects. “We received a one-year Rs 20 lakh grant from the Habitats Trust and began our programme to conserve the coral cover in Goa. We could not raise money during the Covid phase. So, I hit upon the plan to put coral fragments up for adoption. This is fairly common in other countries, but not in India,” says founder of Coastal Impact and passionate marine conservationist, Venkatesh Charloo.  

Corals are small marine animals, which secrete calcium carbonate that forms reefs. These reefs provide habitat and food for nearly 25 percent of all marine life. Much like trees in forests, corals support life and that’s why they are dubbed the ‘rainforests of the sea’.

“A 2-3 cm coral fragment costs Rs 5,500 to adopt and we have raised Rs 5.65 lakhs so far through adoption of 113 fragments. Everybody who adopts a coral is fighting for nature,” says Venkat. The adopter is given a certificate and the number of the coral. He or she can also name the coral adopted. The certificate and the income tax exemption document are sent by email to the adopter.

Samaira ram coral adoption
Samaira Ram, first coral adopter (left) and a transplanted coral (right). Pic: Coastal Impact


Many divers and non-divers want to assist with the coral conservation programme. The NGO asks them to adopt a coral and even give it as a birthday or anniversary gift to a friend or family member. 

People can readopt the coral after a year is up. Coastal Impact takes photos of corals and uses artificial intelligence to track their growth. 

“Coral reefs protect shorelines from storms and huge waves. Also, they support marine life by providing food and shelter. A healthy coral reef is a very good indicator of the health of the ocean. Around 60-70 percent of our oxygen comes from the oceans,” explains Venkat. 

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From banker to conservationist  

Interestingly, Venkat worked as a banker in Hong Kong for 11 years before the bug for diving got to him. He was 26 years old when he learnt diving and it soon became a passion. His observations and experiences as a diver made him both appreciate the underwater environment and understand the problems the oceans were facing. From there stemmed his deep interest in marine conservation.

“I quit my bank job and returned to India in 1995. I joined a recreational diving company called Barracuda Diving India and in a couple of years took over its operations. I grew up in India not knowing what scuba diving was. I have to thank my stay in Hong Kong for making me aware of diving and conservation. I used to be a keen watcher of underwater documentaries while in Hong Kong,” says the 60-year-old.  

banker-turned-diver and marine conservationist Venkatesh Charloo
Venkatesh Charloo, marine conservationist and founder of Coastal Impact 

Venkat is also one of the most highly qualified diving instructors in India and has been diving for over 30 years. He founded Coastal Impact in 2009 with the intention of building awareness about marine ecosystems and motivating people to become divers and ocean ambassadors, as well as contributing to saving Goa’s precious marine life. 

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Why are corals important?

Globally, there are over 6,000 species of coral, classified as stony or hard coral and soft coral. There are 30 species of hard coral in Goa found in various colours, the most common being plate coral. 

“Coral reefs are important for Goa for two major reasons. They help the local fishing community by increasing the number and variety of fish in the area. Also, they are an attraction for the dive tourism industry,” says Roanna Silveira, a marine biologist who volunteers with Coastal Impact. 

“Usually, corals grow in clear water, but though Goa has turbid water, it has a reasonable coral cover. For transplantation, we focus on plate corals which are very resilient,” Roanna adds.

(Left) Roanna Silveira, marine biologist & Coastal Impact volunteer; (right) Sheela Jayant, administrator at Dona Leonor Memorial High School, Goa

Many coral reefs are over 500 million years old. Individual corals may be small but they are one of the most important elements of the marine ecosystem though they occupy less than one percent of the ocean floor area globally.

“The coral cover under the oceans is endangered by pollution, particularly plastic dumping, over-fishing, climate change and ocean acidification,” rues Venkat. 

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How corals are transplanted

“I am not a marine biologist but a diver with a fair amount of experience in the underwater scene. The changes I have seen underwater over the past 30 years prompted me to take up coral transplantation. I wanted to do something practical to help the oceans,” says Venkat.  

“We have conserved 500 corals so far. We pick up broken but live corals and break them into smaller pieces. The reason: this micro-fragmentation technique enables the corals to grow 40 percent faster than when other conventional methods are used,” he says.

The coral fragments are carried in a mesh bag under the boat (they are not taken out of the water) until the team gets to the nursery site at Goa’s Grande Island.  

transplanted corals
Transplanted corals on a table. Pic: Coastal Impact

At the nursery site, garden shears are used to cut the corals further (micro-fragmentation) and put them on flooring tiles that have been discarded or donated. Twelve tiles are attached to a table and four fragments are stuck on each tile using a special glue (which is effective underwater). The tables are at a depth of around 30 ft. All this work is done underwater.

Once the corals have grown to a certain size, the NGO does what is called out-planting – putting the corals back on the reefs.  

Every month, the NGO’s team goes down and brushes the tiles to remove algae growing on them which sometimes takes over the coral. In the last two years, an average growth of 550 percent (over six times) has been noted in the size of plate coral that has been transplanted.  

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Marine awareness 

The diving season is from September to April. Coastal Impact conducts Marine Awareness Programmes (MAPs) in the off-season. “We make presentations in schools and colleges in Goa, conduct online programmes, and sometimes hold programmes for corporates. We have conducted around 50 programmes so far free of charge.” 

“The MAPs enable the audience to know what is underwater and appreciate how much we depend on the oceans. We also tell them the problems the marine environment is facing and what individuals and organisations can do about these issues,” explains Venkat. In a humorous vein, he says he sometimes gets calls from parents telling him that their children are accusing them of destroying the marine environment by using too much plastic.  

GOA COral plate variety
Plate coral - a common variety found in Goa. Pic: Coastal Impact

“Children living in Goa are familiar with marine life and the impact on livelihoods – they have observed how fish are smaller in size and less plentiful these days. They understand the harmful impact of plastic dumping. A child who has grown up in an inland state would not be able to understand all these aspects. When they are told about coral transplantation they see hope in the process,” says Sheela Jayant, administrator at Dona Leonor Memorial High School, where Venkat has given talks. 

Future projects 

“The Ministry of Fisheries has come up with a programme to create artificial reefs along the coastline of the country. We plan to contribute our efforts to transplant corals on these reefs. We are in talks with the ministry and ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) on this matter. Apart from leading to fish aggregation (the primary goal of the government), the corals will improve the health of the ocean,” Venkat says.  

“We are looking to upscale the number of corals conserved from 500 to 5000 fragments for this huge project.” 

Coastal Impact wants to take the coral conservation programme along the west coast to Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. The NGO collaborates with other organisations like WWF (World Wildlife Fund), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) and NIO (National Institute of Oceanography) to carry out its activities. 

Coastal Impact will also roll out a Marine Monitors Programme soon. This is a citizen science programme where divers volunteer to collect underwater data and will eventually share it with scientists and the government so that interventions can be made to protect the marine environment. 

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Bengaluru. She writes on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes.)

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