No fish, no peace: why coral restoration is vital in Tuvalu

In Tuvalu, the UN Development Programme is working with the local non-government organisation Fuligafou to implement a coral restoration initiative on the island of Nui. Under the Climate Security in the Pacific project, the initiative aims to restore and protect the coral reefs, which play a crucial role in the security and well-being of the community.

January 30, 2023

Aerial view of Nui. The reef surrounds the island and the village is only accessible by a narrow channel.

In Tuvalu and other low-lying atolls in the Pacific, coral reefs play a vital role in the security and well-being of local communities. They provide not only a habitat for a wide variety of marine life, but also serve as a barrier against storms and erosion and are a vital source of food and income for the local population. The degradation of coral reefs due to climate change, including extreme weather events, warmer ocean temperatures, and rising seas, can lead to increased poverty and food insecurity that in turn can contribute to affect social cohesion and unity, which play a critical role in shaping the island's way of life and have traditionally been a source of resilience in the face of adversity.

This is why, under the joint UNDP-IOM Climate Security in the Pacific project, funded by the UN Peace Building Fund, the local NGO Fuligafou is implementing a coral restoration initiative on Nui Island. An environmental youth-led organization, the NGO focuses on uniting young people of all backgrounds and addressing some of the challenges Tuvalu is facing due to climate change. Some of their projects and programs include coral restoration, women empowerment, and tree planting. All the initiatives include capacity building, which is a vital cross-cutting activity to ensure the ownership and sustainability of the initiatives implemented.

Members of the NGO Fuligafou ready to implement the coral restoration initiative in Nui.

Fuligafou co-founder Talua Nivaga, 30, explains, “If we don’t have fish, which is our main resource, we will have no peace. In Tuvalu, we don’t have land and resources to produce food, and we cannot live without fish. We are a small island with a vast ocean, so we have to take care of our ocean resources. Corals are vital for the preservation of food resources, which in turn alleviate the social pressures that can lead to conflicts.”

Talua Nivaga, Fuligafou co-founder.

Fishing is an integral part of Tuvaluan culture, providing a vital source of food and income for the community.

Current Fuligafou president Siale Suamalie, 33, said, “We decided to prioritize Nui because it is the most affected island by coral bleaching in Tuvalu. Nearly 70% of the corals have bleached and a big part of corals in the lagoon have been destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Tino in 2020.”

“It is my sincere hope that we can continue to represent youth and play an active role in addressing the climate crisis in our country and contribute to making Tuvaluan communities more resilient. We don’t want to run away from our country: we want to address the problems and enable our youth to have a future here.”

Siale Suamalie, Fuligafou President.

The collaboration between UNDP and the local NGO will allow for a more effective initiative by combining UNDP's expertise and resources with the NGO's unique understanding of the local context, resulting in a tailored approach that addresses the specific needs of the community and ensures that the benefits of the initiative are shared by all. Additionally, by working with local NGOs like Fuligafou and empowering them, UNDP is contributing to building local capacities, which can lead to more sustainable and effective projects. Promoting their role as key actors in development and conservation help to ensure that the community has the resources and knowledge to continue to manage and protect their natural resources even beyond the project's lifetime.

Through the coral restoration initiative, UNDP and Fuligafou are working to restore the health of the reefs by using a variety of techniques such as coral propagation and transplantation. This involves growing new coral in a nursery and then transplanting it to the reefs, where it can grow and help to rebuild the damaged areas.

The initiative involves transplanting super corals to the damaged areas of the reef, where they can grow and help to rebuild the damaged areas. A multi-step process that involves the local community, to ensure a sustainable future for the reefs and the community.

Tealofa Teagai, member of the NGO, said, “In this area, there used to be corals, but most of them are dead now. Corals are the home of fish, and we as Tuvaluans depend most on them, so this is why it is important to plant the corals here. We believe this initiative is important especially to ensure a sustainable future for our kids and future generations.

Fuligafou member, Tealofa Teagai

By restoring the health of the reefs, UNDP and Fuligafou are helping ensure the community has access to resources that coral reefs provide. This in turn can lead to a more stable and secure community, with a more resilient economy and less poverty and food insecurity.

In addition to the coral restoration activity, the initiative also includes community engagement and training activities for the local community, both to raise awareness about the importance of coral reefs and the need to protect them and how this can be achieved. By involving the community in every phase of the initiative, the project is helping to build social cohesion and ownership in this joint effort.

The coral restoration initiative in Tuvalu is an outstanding example of how local communities and international organizations can work together to address climate-related security challenges facing our planet and to build a more sustainable future for all.

Contact information:

Giulio Fabris, Climate Security Project - Communications and Advocacy Specialist, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; email:;