Coral restoration has been a hot topic in ocean conservation for many years, with various ways developed to give reefs a helping hand to recover from damage.
It’s an approach to conservation that attracts its fair share of critics – some people think we shouldn’t need to meddle with nature, and if we deal with the causes of reef disturbance, then the ecosystem should restore itself.
Whatever your viewpoint on these matters, there’s an interesting new paper by Graham Forrester from the University of Rhode Island in the US, showing that there can be tangible benefits from collecting fragments of coral broken off by storms and reattaching them to reefs.
Collaborating with teams of students and local residents in the British Virgin Islands, the researchers worked on endangered Elkhorn coral, which is doing very badly across the Caribbean after it was nearly wiped out by a disease 20 years ago.
They found that around 40% of the transplanted corals were still alive 4 years later even though storms and coral bleaching events hit the area. By fixing the fragments in place using underwater cement and plastic cable ties, it prevented them from rolling around on the seabed and getting damaged and scraped.
The positive thing about this approach to reef restoration is that it is relatively simple and cheap, and it doesn’t involve breaking fragments of healthy coral from intact reefs – a tactic that some restoration projects take.
And while we will never be able to replant large areas of reef, this does at least offer some way for local reef enhancement, to give corals a better chance of standing up to the many problems that face the oceans today.