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Experts Shape the Future of Caribbean Coral Restoration Science and Practice

Published on: 01/03/2017

Adapted text from Tali Vardi

Coral restoration scientists, practitioners, and resource managers gathered at the Workshop to Advance the Science and Practice of Caribbean Coral Restoration in Fort Lauderdale, FL last month to address the rapidly expanding and evolving role of active coral restoration in the management of coral reef ecosystems. The three-day meeting facilitated continuing collaboration and technology transfer among the international coral restoration community and initiated the formation of a consortium dedicated to scaling up coral restoration to meet the needs of reef recovery. Approximately 100 people participated in person plus 100 more online through remote access.

Coral restoration scientists, nursery practitioners, and coastal managers shared and discussed up to date restoration research and methods at the workshop.

Coral restoration scientists, nursery practitioners, and coastal managers shared and discussed restoration research and methods at the workshop.

Highlights include: (1) new research showing healthy reefs help prevent coastal flooding, (2) practitioners using the ESA Acropora Recovery Plan to guide restoration, and innovating techniques to improve outplanting (attachment of nursery-grown corals to natural reefs) efficiency, and (3) broad agreement on increasing the use of sexually-derived recruits to achieve goal of establishing sexually reproductive populations. Immediate next steps are topical webinars, on-line trainings, a recommendations document, and structuring an on-going coral restoration consortium.

 

Several key points of agreement were reached for the first time during the workshop:

  1. New research is demonstrating the utility of coral restoration to provide substantial coastal resilience. Coral reefs provide ~$6B/year worth of coastal flooding protection. It was shown that 1 meter of change in reef height can have substantial implications. Downscaling the dollar figure to counties or municipalities will help demonstrate the importance of reefs to citizens that bear the economic impacts, both positive (e.g. tourism dollars) and negative (e.g. insurance, flooding adaptations). This could impart a critical source of support and funding for reef protection and restoration.
  2. Restoration practitioners are using the ESA Acropora Recovery Plan to guide outplanting which follows the broadly agreed upon goal of establishing sexually reproductive populations.
  3. The community of restoration practitioners is applying new innovations to increase the efficiency of outplanting asexually derived coral fragments (pieces of coral broken off from an adult coral).
  4. Significant progress has been made in the research and application of using sexually derived larval recruits to increase genetic diversity in coral restoration, which holds great promise for this technique to play a larger role in overall restoration and long-term resilience of reefs.
  5. Coral nursery operators are anxious to improve the incorporation of genetic information into their outplanting efforts. Workshop participants agreed that (a) coordinated means and guidance are needed to manage and track genetic information on corals; and (b) analysis and guidance are needed on the costs, benefits, and risks of pursuing various genetic intervention and translocation strategies to assist reefs in a rapidly changing climate.
  6. Participants agreed on the need to develop standardized site-wide monitoring approaches that cover various levels of information (genetics and demographics of out- planted corals, aerial extent of hard coral cover, ecosystem function, and metadata), and share data to facilitate regional understanding of restoration and ecosystem status.
  7. Participants conveyed extremely strong interest in establishing a coral restoration consortium including formal and informal ways to continue and improve collaboration among researchers, managers, and practitioners. A number of the larger NGO partners expressed strong interest in helping lead the consortium with NOAA’s support.

The workshop, hosted by multiple NOAA program offices (NMFS OPR/RC/ST/SERO, NOS NCCOS/OCM/CRCP) in conjunction with NGO partners, strongly demonstrated the need to share knowledge and collaborate regionally so as to rapidly propel the science and practice of coral restoration in order to save this declining and critically important ecosystem.

For more information, please contact Shay Viehman.

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