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Replenishing the Coral Reefs

Sagay City, on the tropical island of Molocaboc in the Phiilippines, is a welcome change from Cambridge in January. Gerardo Jose la O', a graduate student at MIT, known to friends as G.J., describes the area not far from his hometown as "a panoply of natural colors bursting at its seams," but he was not there for the scenery alone.

G.J. was on the island to deliver a presentation to local teachers and students about the First-Step Coral project. First-Step Coral is a coral reef restoration project, launched by G.J. and fellow MIT students Emzo de los Santos, Martin M. Lorilla, and Illac Diaz with fellowships from the MIT Public Service Center. The First-Step Coral team chose Sagay City, an important fishing center, in response to the deleterious effects of destructive fishing methods on the area's marine eco-systems.

The First-Step Coral team devised a unique method to restore the damaged coral reef utilizing traditional coral restoration technology, as well as solar, wind, and tidal power. Combining the BiorockTM technology developed by MIT alumnus Thomas J. Goreau with renewable power both increased the rate of success and sped growth five-fold. In 2005-2006 this innovative thinking won the First-Step Coral team $7,500 in the MIT IDEAS Competition.

The First-Step Coral team also started an educational and leadership program to promote awareness and involvement amongst local students. G.J. and his team presented the project to local schools and taught more than 500 schoolchildren, teachers, and community leaders about marine ecology. "Seeing the children and their boundless imagination and energy, I was looking at the future of Molocaboc, Sagay and the fate of the Visayan Sea," G.J. said. "Some of these kids would one day grow up to be fisherman and it was clearly important how our work also needed to educate them about the limited marine resources available to everyone."

The fellowship experience, G.J. said, has shown him that "it is possible to do positive things and all that is needed is innovation, a thinking out-of-the-box mentality and some risk-taking." He looks forward to returning to Molocaboc in the future to see the growth of not only his project, but also the young friends he made.

Read more about students and their public service projects...