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Studies have revealed that the world has already lost around half of its coral reefs and is set to lose another 40% over the next three decades. A combination of a multitude of local and global stressors is recognized as causing this damage. Around 75% of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by these stressors, and without action, experts predict that this figure will rise to 90% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
Coral Vita, an environmental company set up in the Bahamas by a group of environmental entrepreneurs, aims to restore this drastic loss of an important ecosystem by growing corals 50 times faster than in nature and simultaneously enhancing their resilience to a key global stressor - climate change. Their ambitious reef restoration project will protect threatened aquatic ecosystems by planting their specially grown corals into degraded reefs.
What Threatens Coral Reefs and Why is Reef Restoration Important?
Coral reefs are a source of vital underwater biodiversity. They have multiple functions, from protecting coastal areas from erosion by reducing the impact of harsh waves to supporting a diverse range of aquatic species. The Great Barrier Reef alone supporting 400 species of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 species of mollusk, and six of the seven sea turtle species in existence. Without the reefs, thousands of animal and plant species could be lost forever.
Threats to coral reefs are classed as either local or global.
Local threats include:
- Destructive activities such as unsustainable fishing, where the over-harvesting of fish leads to disruptions in the delicate balance of the reef ecosystem
- Water pollution, which can promote algae growth and subsequently blocks sun exposure to the reef
- Habitat destruction, where activities such as coral mining, coral collecting, and destructive fishing methods can cause direct physical harm to the reef
Global threats include:
- Climate change, which causes coral bleaching, increasing sea levels, and stronger storms
- Ocean acidification, which occurs as the oceans absorb the increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide
- Ozone depletion, which leads to more UV penetrating the ocean and damaging the coral
Reef restoration efforts have become important over recent decades as the need to return these ecosystems to their natural state has intensified.
Coral reefs are vital for supporting rich and diverse ecosystems of thousands of plant and animal species, many of which are endangered.
Reefs also support human life, with over 500 million people worldwide relying on the reefs for jobs, food, and coastal defense.
Finally, coral reefs are vital to the development of new therapeutic approaches to several serious, life-threatening diseases, with recent scientific advancements in the treatment of cancer and heart disease relying on extracts from species living on reefs.
How Coral Vita’s Reef Restoration Project Works
Coral Vita has developed a five-step process to growing and translating resilient corals. Its reef restoration project aims to reverse some of the damage caused by local and global factors that have destroyed coral reefs over the decades.
Step one involves assessing the health of the coral reef along with its water quality to determine the best site for restoration.
Next, scientists create a restoration plan which identifies species that should be grown and in which quantities they are required to restore the reef’s health. Once this is established, corals are reared on land-based farms via accelerated growth and enhanced resiliency methods. When these corals are ready, they are outplanted into coral reefs.
Finally, scientists monitor the progress of the coral restoration and monitor how this impacts local marine health.
Coral Vita uses land-based nurseries rather than ocean-based nurseries used by most reef restoration projects in operation today. While ocean-based nurseries are suitable for small-scale projects, restoration on the scale that Coral Vita plans, requires an effective and scalable method.
The land-based project established by Coral Vita is revolutionary as it uses a process known as microfragmenting, which accelerates coral growth up to 50 times its natural growth rate. Such speeds are not achievable by ocean-based techniques.
Land-based nurseries also give scientists the opportunity to tailor the environment to the needs of the coral. In addition, land-based farming allows the use of assisted evolution techniques that enhance the coral’s resiliency to some of its common threats, including the increasing temperatures and acidity caused by climate change. Land-based methods also protect growing coral from exposure to storms, warming, and boating accidents that threaten coral grown in ocean-based nurseries.
Coral Vita: Growing Coral to Restore Dying Reefs
Video Credit: Sam Teicher/YouTube.com
Hope for Large-Scale Coral Reef Restoration
Coral Vita offers hope for the large-scale restoration of the world’s coral reefs. Its utilization of land-based nurseries offers an effective solution to the large-scale degradation of the world’s coral reefs. Its accelerated growth and coral resiliency methods position Coral Vita at the forefront of coral restoration efforts and will likely play a vital role in protecting the future of coral reefs and their ecosystems.
References and Further Reading
How we’re protecting reefs. Coral Vita. Available at: https://www.coralvita.co/what-we-do
Fast facts: coral reefs. Office for Coastal Management. Available at: https://coast.noaa.gov/states/fast-facts/coral-reefs.html
Restoring our world’s dying coral reefs. Coral Vita. Available at: https://www.coralvita.co
Why are coral reefs important? Natural History Museum. Available at: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/quick-questions/why-are-coral-reefs-important.html