Create a Coral Reef at This Bahamas Resort Thanks to Kenny Chesney

You’ve always wanted to save the ocean, right?

The waves smack you across your shoulders, but you’re not going anywhere. The 5,000-pound-plus reef ball you’re steering through the waters of Deadman’s Reef, off the western coast of Grand Bahama, makes sure of it. It floats, though, and after a few minutes of swimming with the hollow beast, you and your team get to the right spot: a line of older reef balls that have already transformed into a self-sustaining coral reef. Once you deflate your floating device, your reef ball sinks and joins them, jumpstarting Mother Nature by 500 years.

Yesterday, you helped mold and build a reef ball. Today, you’ve just planted your first coral reef. Tomorrow, you’ll transplant coral plugs onto the reef ball’s surface by hand. And between all this eco-action, there will be plenty of rum punch, plenty of snorkeling, and plenty of Kenny Chesney in the background. He did help you become a reef warrior, after all.

Reef Ball Foundation

The first tourist-planted coral reef

The sand is disappearing from Barry Smith’s property, Paradise Cove—one of the longest-running locally owned resorts on Grand Bahama. His two villas, once 100 yards from the waves, seem just a few years away from becoming overwater bungalows. The eco-friendly, sustainable resort, known for kayaking and snorkeling, was looking at a non-existent future.

Smith had to do something. Looking for solutions, he scoured the region for eco-initiatives, eventually coming across the work of the Reef Ball Foundation (RBF), an international non-profit working to protect, rehabilitate, and rebuild our ocean ecosystems. Reef balls—together forming a new reef—could be the answer, acting as a breakwater and protecting the sand, diversifying and strengthening the area’s marine life, and making the resort’s snorkeling even better.

But to get reef balls rolling, Smith needed Kenny Chesney. When No Shoes Reefs, Chesney’s foundation, and their partner DEEP Apparel—a sustainable clothing line with many products made almost entirely from plastic—got wind of RBF’s interest in Paradise Cove, Smith’s dream became reality. With funding and materials procured, a reef was ready to be built on the western end of Grand Bahama.

By the hotel guests.

“With DEEP and No Shoes Reefs,” says Smith, “we’re developing a meaningful ecotourism package where guests stay three, five, or seven days, and either build reef balls, deploy them, transplant coral, or contribute to all three legs of the project.” Though RBF has projects in over 70 countries—and resorts boasting coral adoption aren’t unheard of—Paradise Cove marks the first place travelers are taking the wheel, literally planting entire reefs themselves. It’s ecotourism on steroids. (Kenny, you should be proud.)

Paradise Cove Beach Resort

Sorry, what’s a reef ball?

“Traditional reef design,” explains Larry Beggs, VP of Reef Ball Foundation, “is done by large contractors and government agencies.” It’s when a battleship is dropped strategically into the ocean, or even cinder blocks and old tires. This way, Beggs notes, the average person can give back. “Once you get people involved and active and learning about the ocean, they do a whole lot of different things back home.”

Beggs goes on to explain that reef balls are made from pH-neutralized marine-grade concrete—an awful lot more sustainable than those old tires. With a rough surface and coral-adaptive plug areas, they’re a basic tapestry for Mother Nature to paint, speeding up the process with automatic height and structure. “It ain't the prettiest thing; just a chunk of concrete. But once we put it in the water, Mother Nature will take over.”

The idea was to create something sustainable yet unremarkable. “Something we could put in the hands of volunteers, school groups, dive groups, places like the islands,” Beggs explains. The team made sure it was low-cost and required no fancy equipment, using simple tools and resources found across the globe, opening up the technology to small communities and ultimately reducing the foundation’s carbon footprint.

Of course, at Paradise Cove, guests will be trained and supervised when working with any tools or the massive reef balls themselves. According to Smith, guests tackling the whole project will spend part of two days pouring molds, part of two days deploying, and part of two days for coral propagation. “The project will last year-round, but May to September offer calmer days.” In between, guests will go snorkeling and kayaking off the property, spearfishing, or even get a lesson from Smith on freediving.

Tip: If you can’t get to The Bahamas, consider adopting a reef ball. Or for a super easy feel-good, 40% of net profits from DEEP’s No Shoes Reefs line—sun shirts, hats, hoodies—go directly toward No Shoes Reefs/Reef Ball Foundation.

Bahamas Plastic Movement

So why The Bahamas?

The third-largest continuous reef system in the world stretches along the islands of The Bahamas, the 140-mile Andros Barrier Reef, and it’s at particular risk. Between 70 years of island mining wreaking havoc on the region and the Caribbean receiving an outsized portion of the world’s marine trash—not to mention warming seas—the outlook, as the Magic 8 Ball might say, doesn’t look good.

But a new era may be coming for the ancestral homeland of Fyre Fest: Single-use plastics were banned in January 2020 and eco-initiatives are popping up across the islands, from Smith’s grand reef-ball plan to Bahamas Plastic Movement to West End Ecology Tours. From here, travelers can put down the mai tai and pick up the baton, putting their money, time, and energy where it counts: supporting the local economy and the local environment. Plant a reef ball at Paradise Cove, and you’re doing just that.

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Jacqueline Kehoe is a writer, photographer, and geology geek. See her work on Instagram @j.kehoe.