Coral raised in nurseries is eventually transplanted into the ocean. (Supplied: Corals for Conservation)

Fiji turning to coral gardening to save its lucrative South Pacific reefs from bleaching

Tourism is the backbone of Fiji's economy but it's under threat; the Pacific island paradise and many of the vibrant coral reefs that hundreds of tourists, particularly Australians, come to see have been killed off in mass coral bleaching events.

But could "coral gardening" restore these reefs, and in doing so, save the Fijian tourism industry?

The man known as "the coral gardener", US-born marine biologist Austin Bowden-Kerby, pioneered the unique reef restoration technique and believes it can be part of the solution.

The semi-retired marine biologist who now calls Fiji home, has been experimenting with it for almost 40 years.

"In the beginning, I would just go, that's a purple coral, oh that's beautiful, oh that's nice," Dr Bowden-Kerby told the ABC.

Fiji's reefs in crisis

"There's a lot of dead coral, there's more dead coral than live coral," Alex Wilson, manager of Fiji's Plantation Resort said.

He returned to take up the job in his home country only recently.

"When I came here and saw the situation of the corals, I thought, oh my god," he said.

"After being in Papua New Guinea, being in Cook Islands and seeing the coral there and how beautiful it is, I was very disappointed with what I saw here in Fiji."

Fiji's tourism industry is its biggest employer and continues to grow.

New data released last week revealed the total number of tourists visiting Fiji in 2018 was up 3.6 per cent on the previous year, earning Fiji a record $1.2 billion.

But while the industry may be growing, there is increasing concern the coral it so heavily relies on, is not.

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