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Recovering Reefs

Recovering Reefs

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, February 24, 2019/Categories: natural history, marine life, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change

                                 Great Barrier Reef Aerial Survey, Queensland (credit: GBR Foundation)

This Journal has covered coral reef ecosystems and their decline in multiple posts. Corals are being damaged or destroyed by a long list of environmental stresses including: agricultural runoff and sedimentation; ocean acidification, predation by Crown of Thorns starfish; amplified el nino ocean temperatures; and climate change. These coral stressors have created mass bleaching events around the world. Reef ecosystems cover less than 1% of marine environments but support more than 25% of all fish species in the oceans. Reefs are "engines" for island tourism so degradation of these vital ecosystems causes direct economic impacts when destroyed. Coral restoration is critical and still poorly developed.

However, research on reef ecology and coral re-establishment is showing some promise with the potential to restore corals where they have been degraded or eliminated. Organizations including the Center for Coral Reef Studies CoralCoe in Australia; the Coral Reef Alliance in Hawai'i; NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program; and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation all support efforts to restore reefs. These diverse efforts involve private foundations, governmental organizations, tourism companies, and citizen-scientists working on effective methods of restoration.


                                           Harvesting Coral Larvae for Reef Restoration (credit: CSIRO)

One promising approach being pioneered in Australia harvests spawning coral larvae and then grows them in aquaculture tanks to a sufficient size for re-introduction to destroyed sections of the Great Barrier Reef. This pioneering method, being developed by CSIRO, increases the success rate of "settled" young corals on the damaged reefs. Natural establishment percentage are often far lower due to the coral larvae being consumed by fish and bird before settling on the sea floor.

The CSIRO method looks like it could be used in industrial-scale restoration applications over large bleached reef ecosystems. A scientific presentation by one of the investigators outlines their thinking and exciting results.

'Scalability' is an issue for every approach to promote reef recovery. The need is widespread and the 'rainforests of the sea' need all the help they can get.



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