It might sound counterintuitive if you want to restore coral reefs, focus on land first and work with communities before shifting your efforts to the underwater world. But a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation confirms this novel approach to coral restoration.
Ultimately restoring coral reefs is done to benefit people, to benefit the economy, and improve ecosystem services provided by corals, so it makes sense to focus effort with communities first. This is to not only identify benefits and positive outcomes but also understand which factors on land are contributing to coral reef decline in the first place.
Global climate change and rising ocean temperatures are only one side of the story when it comes to coral reef decline. Environmental degradation due to destructive fishing, sedimentation caused by coastal development, declining water quality due to anthropogenic pollution, and environmental stressors such as disease or predators like the crown of thorn starfish have a compounding effect leading to the decline and loss of coral reef.
“The human dimension is particularly relevant to coral restoration since people are involved in all stages of the restoration process, from design to execution and monitoring. Involvement of volunteers and citizen scientists in restoration efforts has the potential to improve local and global stewardship of reef resources.”
For this study four, well-established coral restoration projects were interviewed to analyze the benefits and limitation of coral restoration.
“Among the five over-arching themes identified for benefits of coral restoration, the themes ‘socio-cultural benefits’ and ‘ecological benefits’ were significantly more frequently mentioned than the other theme.”
Involving communities is a powerful tool to ensure the long-term success of a restoration project. And coral restoration can be a powerful tool for conservation education.
“Among the six themes identified for the limitations of coral restoration, the themes ‘technical limitations’ and ‘management limitations’ were significantly more frequently mentioned than the other themes.”
So while it is important to remember the goal of restoration is to restore a coral reef habitat, it is the people who the reef support who are the ultimate recipient of the aid, and by supporting the community, addressing underlying issues causing degradation and involving them at every step of the process, coral restoration projects are far more likely to succeed and persist in the future.
As for the limitations?
A paradigm shift is happening, where more and more concerned dive shops, Marine Parks, NGOs, and coastal communities are getting involved with environmental restoration. Together our knowledge of coral restoration is growing exponentially, and we will soon bridge the technological knowledge gap that currently exists.