THE University of Essex has joined the world’s largest programme to help restore coral reefs.

Hope Reef, the largest coral reef restoration programme off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia has been unveiled with the help of the university’s coral reef research unit.

Director of the unit and Chief Marine Scientist at Mars Inc, Professor David Smith said they are “thrilled” to reveal the reef.

The reef, which can be seen on Google Earth, has been built to spell the word HOPE and is a symbol to show the world how positive change can happen within our lifetime.

Prof Smith added: “Our efforts to restore and regenerate these precious ecosystems are showing exciting results and having a positive impact on communities, which we’re delighted to see.

“We hope our efforts inspire others to join us so we can all play our part in helping to prevent the extinction of our coral reefs.”

David Smith

David Smith

Led by SHEBA, the programme aims to restore more than 185,000 sq m of coral reef by 2029 - roughly the size of 148 Olympic swimming pools.

Scientists estimate if the world does nothing, 90 per cent of tropical reefs will be gone by 2043, impacting nearly 500 million people who depend on them for food, income and coastal protection.

Since the start of Hope Reef’s restoration two years ago, coral cover has increased from five to 55 per cent, fish abundance has increased and there has been the return of species such as sharks and turtles.