What is coral reef restoration?
Restoration is a comprehensive term, referring to the return of an ecosystem, such as a coral reef, to a state that has the characteristics of an intact environment that has not been degraded, including its prior biological diversity and food chains. According to the Reef Resilience Network, "ecological restoration" is defined by the Society of Ecological Restoration as "the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed."1
Why actively intervene to restore reefs?
It is appropriate to ask whether the damage to coral reefs inflicted by humans can be remedied by additional interventions that vastly differ from the natural ways that coral reefs function and recover. Like other ecosystems, coral reefs have the capacity to heal themselves over time if given the chance. However, there is now widespread consensus among the scientific community that climate change is resulting in catastrophic storm events and sea temperature spikes that are too frequent and extreme to allow the natural recovery of coral without large-scale actions by public and private sector to increase the resilience of reefs.2
A variety of restoration methods and strategies have been pioneered with varying degrees of success, each of which has advantages and challenges that are summarized below. Some specific methods have demonstrated greater promise than others. While there have been many encouraging success stories at the individual program, project, or coral farm level, greater political commitment to climate action and environmental preservation is needed on the part of governments before restoration efforts can be carried out on a meaningful, global scale.
1. Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group. 2004
The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration. www.ser.org & Tucson: Society for Ecological Restoration International.
2. Boström-Einarsson L, Babcock RC, Bayraktarov E, Ceccarelli D, Cook N, Ferse SCA, et al. (2020) Coral restoration – A systematic review of current methods, successes, failures and future directions. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0226631. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226631.