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Scientists are racing to restore coral reefs: but how can they tell if it’s working?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rebecca Shoer
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Photo by Fanny Couture

The world is losing coral reefs at an alarming rate. 2016 saw the greatest coral die-off event in recorded history, bleaching over 90% of the Great Barrier Reef alone. As scientists race to combat the environmental causes of coral die-off, restoration ecologists are also working to restore corals to their original habitat. One restoration method is coral transplantation -- the moving and securing of coral fragments onto reef foundations.

But it’s hard to say if transplantation actually works, says Margaux Hein of the Arc Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. In a new review released in Restoration Ecology, she found that most restoration projects have few ways to measure “success,” especially over time. In 53% of studies, restored reefs were monitored for only one year, and some even less.

In addition, coral growth and coral survival are the only criteria most studies use to measure “success.” But coral reefs are complex ecosystems, and they support not only thousands of other species, but local human communities as well. Growth and survival rates, especially over the course of a single year, are only a fraction of what makes a healthy coral reef. Hein, a PhD candidate, created a list of ten “key indicators” that ecologists can use to measure coral restoration success, including coral diversity, reef structural complexity, and even economic value.

“More than ever before, strategies are needed to strengthen reef resilience in the face of local and global threats to coral reefs around the world,” she says. “If coral restoration is to be used, we need better tools to assess its efficacy in regard to reef resilience.”

Without long-term monitoring of restoration efforts, there’s no way to tell if a project has been truly successful. As millions of dollars are invested in projects trying to restore coral reefs around the world, it’s more important than ever that these projects be held to a high standard. For Earth’s coral reefs, there’s no time to waste. 


The study, The need for broader ecological and socioeconomic tools to evaluate the effectiveness of coral restoration programs, is published in Restoration Ecology (doi: 10.1111/rec.12580)


About Restoration Ecology
Restoration Ecology is the Society’s bi-monthly scientific and technical peer-reviewed journal published Edited by a distinguished international panel, the journal addresses global concerns and communicates them to researchers and practitioners throughout the world

About SER
The Society for Ecological Restoration is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting ecological restoration as a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and re-establishing an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture. 

Media Contact: 
Rebecca Shoer
Communications and Operations Associate
Society for Ecological Restoration
202.299.9518 /