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Restored coral reefs show incredible speed of recovery: Study

A new study shows that restored coral reefs can grow at the same speed as healthy coral reefs just four years after transplantation

Coral reefs support over a quarter of all known marine species and are crucial to the marine ecosystem
Coral reefs support over a quarter of all known marine species and are crucial to the marine ecosystem (Pexels)

Coral reefs are rapidly disappearing worldwide, and the majority are under threat due to human-induced climate change. Now, a new study has brought hope. Researchers have found that efforts to restore coral reefs not only increase coral cover, but can also reinstate ecosystem functions quite quickly.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, shows that restored coral reefs can grow at the same speed as healthy coral reefs just four years after coral transplantation. According to researchers, this could provide significant habitat space for marine life and protect the adjacent island from wave energy and erosion.

Also read: World on brink of fourth mass coral reef bleaching event: NOAA

Coral reefs support over a quarter of all known marine species and are crucial to the marine ecosystem. However, human actions such as the burning of fossil fuels are warming the air and oceans, significantly affecting coral reefs’ health, and causing them to increasingly disappear.

For scientists working on restoring the reefs to stabilise the oceans’ ecosystem, the new study comes as encouraging news. "The speed of recovery that we saw was incredible," study author Ines Lange said in a press statement. “We did not expect a full recovery of reef framework production after only four years.”

The study was conducted at the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Program in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, one of the largest restoration projects in the world. The project involved transplanting corals and adding substrate to restore reefs badly damaged by blast fishing three or four decades ago. The reefs showed no signs of recovering without human intervention, the statement elaborated.

Corals constantly add calcium carbonate to the reef framework, which some fishes and sea urchins erode it away. Hence, calculating the overall carbonate budget tells you if the reef as a whole is growing or shrinking, the researchers explained in the statement. To keep the sea-level rise, protect coastlines from storms as well as provide a habitat for reef animals, positive reef growth is crucial.

The findings showed that in just four years, the net carbonate budget had tripled and it matched the budget at healthy control sites. However, according to the researchers, there are differences between coral reefs and restoral coral reefs which may affect habitat provision for some marine species and resilience to future heat waves, as branching corals are more sensitive to bleaching."

Notably, these findings are important as they show that solutions-focused can help bring back important ecosystem functions and restore reefs.

Also read: Pacific coral reefs show increase in climate resistance: Study

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