Money, political will and expertise needed to restore the world’s coral reefs


Funding and political will were the leading enablers to help restore coral reefs, it was revealed in a recent survey of 28 countries and organisations striving to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems.

Most International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) members who responded to the online survey highlighted the need for more research to understand what they needed to do, and to establish a plan of action. Most also said more funding and training was needed.

The results revealed a substantial mismatch between current and aspirational coral restoration and adaptation projects in terms of scale, capacity and funding. The average area of restoration projects was a 0.33ha, while the annual area required was more than 80ha.

While funding ranged from tens of thousands to millions of US dollars, this was generally insufficient funds to meet future goals.

Most ICRI countries who responded to the survey were using coral restoration as a tool to manage their reefs. The most commonly-used techniques were coral gardening and direct transplantation, followed by artificial structures.

Of the non-country members, less than half were using coral restoration, and just over a quarter reported research projects only.

The most common objectives were engaging local communities and supporting tourism and fisheries production. ICRI members also highlighted the importance of research into coral adaptation or climate protection.

A global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions emerged as the primary future priority for non-country members, while improving water quality was cited by ICRI countries as the most important future management action.

Almost all ICRI country-members said new reef restoration policy was needed, which should be integrated with existing policy.

Coral reefs are among the most biologically-diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on the planet. They are also among the most threatened.

As the health of the world’s coral reefs declines, there is increased appetite for active management and interventions, such as coral restoration or coral predator control, as well as growing recognition that established approaches to managing coral reefs are insufficient in a changing climate.

The ICRI Plan of Action 2018-2020 called for the promotion of leading reef restoration practices by facilitating partnerships, investment and capacity-building among members. An ICRI ad hoc committee on reef restoration was formed to progress this in 2019.

The online survey aimed to identify common interests, facilitate global and regional collaborations, and help identify opportunities for co-investment in research and development.

Of the 28 ICRI members who completed the survey: 17 were countries, eight were non-government organisations, one was a foundation and two were regional intergovernmental organisations. The survey results were supplemented by a series of meetings with relevant experts and coordinators.

The interim report summarising the findings recommended:

  • Strong action on climate change and other stressors: Coral restoration should not be viewed as a replacement for reducing local, regional and global stressors acting on reefs.
  • Investment in research and development: Substantial research and development is required to scale up and improve all facets of restoration and adaptation.
  • Promoting knowledge-sharing and collaboration: There would be great benefit in global cooperation, collaboration and knowledge-sharing to ensure efficient use of resources.
  • Developing best practice guidelines: Science-based guidance for restoration practitioners is critically needed, and the UNEP and collaborating organisations have committed to facilitating the production of guidelines.
  • Developing policy and plans: New or refined policy and plans relevant to restoration and adaptation are needed.
  • Promote ‘blue restoration’: the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration represents an opportunity to promote ‘blue restoration’ including restoring coral reefs. Further, the goal of large-scale restoration, to sequester carbon and reduce anthropogenic climate change, could help mitigate the main threat to coral reefs.

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