Story at a glance

  • Sheba aims to restore the equivalent of 148 Olympic swimming pools of coral reef by 2029.
  • They build reefs using “Reef Stars,” which are 35-inch-wide, star-shaped steel structures.
  • Healthy coral reefs perform vital economic and ecosystem roles, but they face several key threats.

Pet food brand Sheba unveiled Hope Reef, the start of the world’s largest coral restoration program off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia. 

The coral reef, which can be seen on Google Earth and was built to spell the word H-O-P-E, is part of a global commitment by Sheba to restore more than 1.9 million square feet — the equivalent of 148 Olympic swimming pools — of coral reef by 2029.

Coral cover has increased from 5 to 55 percent since the start of the project in 2019, and the reefs have seen the return of species vital to the ocean food web, including eagle and devil rays, black tip sharks, hawksbill and green turtles. 

Reef Star coral restoration method

Hope Reef was built using so-called “Reef Stars,” which are 35-inch-wide, star-shaped steel structures. Each star is joined underwater to create a strong web that covers the seabed and provides a stable base for coral fragments to regrow. 

“In a single day, a team of four divers can install up to 500 Reef Stars – equivalent to seeding 10,000 m2 of healthy reef every 30 days,” shares Professor David Smith, Chief Marine Scientist at SHEBA’s parent company Mars. “The Reef Stars are built using locally available materials, minimizing ecological impact and supporting the island’s economy.”

Hope Reef took three days of diving to build, using 840 Reef Stars and planting 12,600 coral fragments.

The Reef Star method was designed and refined based on previously existing models over the course of a decade to provide a simple but effective solution that’s scalable and adaptable. 

Innovation in coral restoration methods continues to evolve, including the use of Lego bricks In Singapore or 3D-printed tiles in Hong Kong

The value of coral reefs

Healthy coral reefs perform vital economic and ecosystem roles. Although they make up less than 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs house more than a quarter of all marine species. Some 500 million people depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods, including jobs in the fishing and tourism industries and shoreline protection from extreme weather events. 

Scientists are also developing important drugs from coral reef organisms as potential cures to cancer, arthritis and other diseases. 

The impact of global warming, pollution and unsustainable fishing

Yet coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems by pollution and climate change. Reefs around the world have suffered mass coral bleaching events due to warming temperatures caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that almost all — 99 percent — of the world’s coral reefs will disappear if global warming reaches 2 Celsius degrees above preindustrial levels.  

Hope Reef is located in the Spermonde Archipelago in the center of the Coral Triangle, one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on Earth. It’s home to three-quarters of the world’s coral species, more than 2,000 reef fish species, dolphins, whales, whale sharks, dugongs and six of the seven sea turtle species. 

But unsustainable fishing practices and climate change have placed the marine area and its people — who rely on the reefs for food, income and protection from storms — in jeopardy. 

Engaging local communities

The project has made it one of its key priorities to involve local communities in the restoration efforts to offer them an alternative source of livelihood and to raise awareness of the economic and environmental benefits of safeguarding coral reefs. 

Members of the Bontosua island community have been trained on how to attach corals to Reef Stars and shuttle and place Reef Stars on the seabed.  

The Reef Stars are made locally by a welder in Makassar and coated and stored by the island community of Barrang Caddi. Barrang Cadi has turned the manufacturing of Reef Stars into a local business, and provides demonstrations and training to others keen to learn.

To promote more sustainable reef-based livelihoods, the project has also funded environmental education in schools, supported female-led businesses and created a community ambassador program to engage key social groups, including women, the youth and fishermen.  

Over a decade of coral restoration efforts

Mars has worked on coral reef restoration for the past 13 years, investing more than $10 million in research, restoration and community engagement. 

To date, more than 300,000 coral fragments have been planted and more than 19,000 Reef Stars have been installed. Its restoration sites have seen a 300 percent increase in fish abundance, while fish mass has more than doubled.

The restoration program continues to expand globally, with projects underway or currently planned in Mexico, Australia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Maldives and the Seychelles. 

How can you help?

To learn more about Hope Reef and to contribute to coral restoration efforts directly, check out the YouTube video "The Film That Grows Coral". The advertising money generated from each view is invested into coral reef restoration by non-profit The Nature Conservancy, the project's campaign partner. 

“SHEBA Hope Reef is the next chapter in one of the world's largest coral reef restoration programs and is a vital step to signal and demonstrate that regenerating and restoring ocean ecosystems is possible – showing that ‘Hope Grows’,” says Smith. 

Published on May 12, 2021