Coral Reefs are some of the most unique habitats on Earth. Even though they cover less than 2% of the ocean bottom, they are home to about 5,000 species of animal with more being discovered every day. Reefs are also incredibly important to people. Healthy reefs contribute to local economies through jobs and tourism, they provide food, protect our coasts, and even provide us with medicines. Unfortunately, coral reefs all over the world are under threat from pollution, destructive fishing methods, ocean warming, and more. In many places, reefs pale in comparison to what they once were. However, conservationists are working hard to protect and restore these amazing habitats through a variety of techniques.
The construction of artificial reefs is one of the most common coral restoration practices. This technique involves submerging man-made structures on the ocean floor, providing an area for corals to colonize and grow. These areas not only provide new habitats for corals and fish but can also provide some of the best diving in the world. Some notable locations include the USCGC Duane shipwreck off key largo, The Silent Evolution underwater art exhibit in Mexico, and the Ashkhabad shipwreck in North Carolina.
Another strategy to repopulate coral reefs comes from sites known as coral nurseries. These nurseries are areas of the ocean, often close to other reefs, where large quantities of coral are grown. There are many techniques that conservationists can use to grow coral in these locations, but they all share the same goal: to raise coral fragments and successfully transplant those corals onto the reef. More information about coral nurseries can be found through NOAA or the Coral Restoration Foundation.
One more approach to coral conservation takes conservationists out of the oceans and into labs where scientists are working genetically engineer corals to have particular traits. Researchers can engineer and breed corals to better survive warming waters or a particular disease. They will then transplant these corals onto reefs with the hopes they will begin to successfully reproduce.
As stewards of the ocean it is critical that we work to conserve and protect our coral reefs. There is no simple solution to saving our coral reefs. It will take time, effort, and a variety of conservation strategies, working together toward a common goal, to give our reefs the best chance of survival. Three conservation techniques were briefly described in this article however, there are many more that were not mentioned. If you are interested in learning more about coral restoration, ask your local dive shop about the AWARE Coral Reef Conservation specialty.
Follow our blog for learn more about the latest SCUBA, conservation, and marine science topics.