Ocean Heroes: Coral Restoration and Hope for Our Reefs

Corals worldwide are turning white in response to the higher-than-average ocean temperatures this year. So much so that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed there is mass coral stress in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. But all hope is not lost. As coral reefs face unprecedented threats, coral restoration efforts offer a beacon of hope for their survival. Read on to find out more.

Rising Ocean Temperatures

In August 2023, the global average ocean temperature was at a record high and has been above average almost every day since. This surge in temperature is largely due to the effects of climate change, as the oceans absorb heat-trapping gases emitted from human activities such as burning fossil fuels. Adding to this, the natural climate pattern known as El Niño has also played a role in elevating ocean temperatures since last June

Coral Bleaching Events in 2024

In 2024, coral bleaching events have once again emerged as a pressing concern, affecting some of the world’s most iconic coral reef ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean. The severeness of the past events led NOAA to confirm the fourth worldwide mass bleaching event and the second one within this decade.

These events are becoming more and more frequent, driven by a combination of rising ocean temperatures and environmental stressors, posing significant threats to marine biodiversity and the health of our oceans. 

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Causes of Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the symbiotic algae (Zooxanthellae) living within their tissues. The Zooxanthellae are responsible for the coral’s color and photosynthesis. The expelling of the algae is causing them to turn white. This phenomenon is primarily triggered by prolonged exposure to elevated sea temperatures, which disrupt the delicate symbiotic relationship between corals and algae. Other stressors, such as ocean pollutionoverfishing, and ocean acidification, can exacerbate the bleaching process, further compromising the resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

Impact on Coral Reefs

The consequences of coral bleaching can be devastating, with affected corals becoming more susceptible to disease, mortality, and ecosystem degradation. Stressed coral will die in most cases if it experiences temperatures 1 °C above its thermal limit for two months. If water temperatures are 2 °C higher, it can survive for around one month. 

Coral reefs can recover from heat stress but they need time, ideally several years

Bleaching events not only threaten the survival of coral species but also jeopardize the marine organisms that depend on coral reefs for food, shelter, and habitat. Furthermore, coral reefs play a crucial role in coastal protection, shoreline stabilization, and economic livelihoods, making their decline a matter of global concern. 

The Potential of Coral Restoration

Coral restoration plays a vital role in the preservation and restoration of our marine ecosystems. As coral reefs face unprecedented threats, restoration efforts offer a beacon of hope for their survival. 

By rebuilding degraded reefs, coral restoration not only enhances biodiversity but also provides critical habitat for countless marine species

Furthermore, healthy coral reefs contribute to shoreline protection, support fisheries, and drive tourism economies, highlighting their immense ecological, economic, and cultural significance. Ultimately, investing in coral restoration is essential for safeguarding the health and resilience of our oceans for future generations.

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One approach to coral restoration can involve the following steps: 

1.First, experts identify degraded reef areas that need restoration. These areas may have been damaged by coral bleaching, pollution, or physical destruction. 

2. The coral fragments or "corals of opportunity" are collected from healthy donor reefs. These fragments are carefully transported to the restoration site.

3. At the restoration site, coral fragments are strategically placed and secured to artificial structures or the existing reef substrate to promote their growth and survival.

4. Over time, these fragments grow, forming new coral colonies that contribute to the overall health and diversity of the reef ecosystem. 

In addition to coral transplantation, coral restoration efforts often involve habitat enhancement, such as the installation of artificial reef structures or the creation of underwater nurseries to propagate coral fragments.

The Livingseas Foundation

Amidst this ecological crisis, initiatives like Livingseas Asia’s coral restoration project in Padangbai, Bali, emerge as beacons of hope. With over 4,000 reef structures installed and 2,500 square meters of degraded reef restored, this project serves as a testament to the efficacy of restoration endeavors. 

The outcomes have been remarkable, witnessing the resurgence of marine life, from vibrant coral formations to the return of baby sharks

The Livingseas Foundation employs a multifaceted approach to coral restoration, combining scientific research, community engagement, and innovative technology to maximize the impact of their efforts. By empowering local communities and collaborating with stakeholders, they aim to create sustainable solutions that address the root causes of coral reef degradation.

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Insights from the Field

Leon Boey from Livingseas sheds light on the significance of their work: 

"The reefs here in Bali benefit from being situated adjacent to very deep water, rich in nutrients. However, this does not exempt Bali corals from bleaching. We have observed bleaching in shallow, warmer waters on the North coast of Bali, with incidences on the rise.

Through reef restoration, we aim to mitigate the impact of warming waters by constructing reefs slightly deeper into colder water. While corals grow slower due to reduced sunlight, they are shielded from bleaching in cooler waters."

Continuing the Journey

While the strides made in coral restoration are noteworthy, the journey is far from over. As the project progresses toward its goal of restoring 5 hectares of coral reef, continued support and community engagement are imperative. 

So how can you get involved? Whether through volunteerism, educational initiatives, or fundraising endeavors, you can play a vital part in advancing coral restoration efforts and safeguarding the future of our oceans wherever you live.

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Raising Awareness for Coral Reefs

By raising awareness, fostering community engagement, and advocating for sustainable marine practices, we can collectively address the root causes of coral bleaching and ensure the long-term viability of coral reefs worldwide. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the preservation and protection of our oceans’ fragile ecosystems. 

Join the Movement and Make a Difference

You can help ensure a brighter future for coral reefs worldwide. To learn more about coral restoration and how you can get involved, visit the Livingseas website and follow SSI’s Blue Oceans Program for updates on upcoming initiatives. 

The time to act is now. Join us in preserving and protecting our coral reefs for generations to come. Together, we can turn the tide for our reefs!