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Product, Service & Design Innovation
‘Big Build’ Brings Mars Closer to Goal of Restoring 1M Corals Worldwide by End of 2023

The massive coral-restoration project took place in the Spermonde Archipelago, Indonesia — in the world’s most biologically complex marine ecosystem in the Coral Triangle — alongside Indonesian community partners.

Mars, Incorporated recently led one of the largest single coral-restoration events in history, "The Big Build" — which planted 30,000 corals across 2,500 square meters, working towards the Mars Sustainable Solutions (MSS) goal of restoring 1 million corals worldwide by the end of 2023. The project brought together 44 participants from 17 conservation and science partners across government, NGO, business sectors and local communities to demonstrate the importance of cross-sector partnerships to achieve large-scale coral restoration.

Despite covering less than 1 percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs provide critical ecosystems to more than 25 percent of marine life, provide millions of jobs globally, protect coastlines from storms and erosion, and offer a vital food source for local populations. And the alarming reality is, climate change, overfishing, various types of pollution, and rising sea temperatures and acidification have killed 14 percent of the world’s coral in the last decade; and 90 percent are projected to disappear by 2050 without drastic action.

These vibrant ecosystems are also integral to the health and sustainability of Mars’ seafood supply chain; so, the food giant has joined startups including Archireef and global companies such as Ørsted in innovating new techniques for rebuilding reefs that can thrive today and into the future. In 2006, Mars launched the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Program — which focused on the biodiversity of the Spermonde Archipelago off the coast of Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia; at the center of the Coral Triangle, the planet’s most diverse and biologically complex marine ecosystem.

The Big Build, part of Mars’ Sheba cat food brand’s Sheba Hope Reef initiative (nka Sheba Hope Grows“more coral today; more fish tomorrow”) involves over 500 individuals actively restoring coral reefs, with a target to restore over 185,000 square meters (roughly the size of 148 Olympic swimming pools) by 2029. The project included a key initiative to train local partners in the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) — which has proven successful in restoring damaged reefs at a greater speed, larger scale and lower cost compared to other approaches since 2011. With MARRS, experienced teams of four divers can reportedly install 500 “reef stars” — hexagonal, sand-coated, steel structures with attached coral fragments that are placed across barren coral rubble fields — in just two days. The MARRS-trained teams provided advanced training to local participants to enhance the global capacity to deliver coral restoration at scale and to accelerate the pace of change that is possible — and needed. Through this program, local teams are now equipped to implement the MARRS technique to build new coral reefs across the Indonesian Archipelago.

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Today, the program extends its reach to more than 30 reefs across 10 countries and five continents; and Mars and its global partners have successfully installed more than 60,000 reef stars — planting 900,000 coral fragments.

"I am so proud to be part of The Big Build because there are so many people and partners from outside Bontosua, from across Makassar and Indonesia, that come to the Island and help the local Bontosuan community with coral restoration,” said Farhan, a member of the Bontosuan Community Restoration Team. “We are now one of the only Islands in the Pangkep region which has received this level of Indonesia-wide recognition and engagement. The Big Build and coral reef restoration is so important to our island as healthy coral reefs provide critical coastal protection and support the livelihoods and food supply for the island."

Sheba's coral-restoration efforts, highlighted by the establishment of Hope Reef in Indonesia in 2021, have shown promising impacts with significant increases in coral growth (from 2 percent to 70 percent), fish population (260 percent), and fish species (64 percent). The ongoing restoration efforts span the world's oceans, including recent expanded commitments in Hawai'i — where Sheba has partnered with Kuleana Coral to restore coral reefs across 30 sites on O'ahu and Maui.

Frank Mars, Board Member and Former Board Chair of Mars, said: "14 years ago, I asked a small team of Mars Associates if it would be possible to rebuild a coral reef ecosystem. And today, I'm proud to say that the answer is yes — both technically and scientifically. As we build on two decades of dedication to coral restoration through Mars Sustainable Solutions, it's thrilling to witness the cross-sector, community-centered collaboration shown in 'The Big Build' — demonstrating that it is possible to deliver resilient coral restoration at a large scale. The world we want tomorrow is not going to materialize on its own. The success of Sheba Hope Reef demonstrates that we can change the course of coral reefs if we collectively change how we live, work and play together today."