[Coral-List] Coral Reef Restoration?

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Tue May 6 11:05:58 EDT 2008

Why or what really is Reef or Coral Restoration? This is an important
question to discuss, and really needs to be understood as to its possible
positive effects as well as its limitations, without descending into
pointless semantics. The real issues here are (1) scale, (2) cost/effort,
(3) objectives of any 'intervention'. Three respondents to date to Don
Bakers question missed the point re appropriate scale, and all seemed
oblivious to the cost/effort consideration to the point of verging on the
financially obscene, from the point of view of the majority of the world's
coral reef systems and the mostly poor people having guardianship over them.

By obscene I mean (however well intentioned) sending a boat out to monitor a
dozen or so individual colonies (one of the projects described on the
website attributed to one of the respondents), to a gee-whiz advertisement
for flashy computer tools like GIS with global input by specialists for a
rehabilitation project. Mention was also made of something named ecological
restoration, but that would fail on both scale and cost-benefit grounds. The
cost of trying to fix small reef areas after ship groundings maybe should be
used as a proxy for the likely costs to do anything at an ecologically
viable scale (with appropriate multipliers). Reference to terrestrial
restoration efforts is not a good comparison, with a few possible marginal
successes in simple systems with opportunity to eliminate most of the
disturbance sources. Turning off the human generated disturbances is part of
the cure, then let nature do its thing, if enough time is available before
the next natural or human disturbance comes along.

In an earlier listing I mentioned that restoration/rehabilitation has never
proven to be cost effective for any meaningful ecological impact on a
disturbed reef though specific special case situations may justify the
enormous cost and effort, sometimes. For example, there could be a case for
spending the time on moving a few large, several centuries old colonies from
a planned new harbour entrance, but not necessarily for the majority of
coral colonies on that same reef that are common, fast growing, and rapid
recruiters. Either don't go ahead with the development, or minimise
sedimentation, physical disturbance, and the total human disturbance
footprint for a project, but don't waste the time and money shifting a few
hundred colonies around that would represent a fraction of a percent of the
total present in that local area.

I find it all a bit tedious to continue to hear theoretical and idealogical
arguments based on an erroneous pretext that humans can re-create complex
natural systems. By and large, interventions to restore/rehab reefs (in all
its current forms and technologies) are not quick-fix solutions and cannot
be thought of as an available or practical tool to redress disturbances to
reefs and their inhabitants through human activities, or through natural
causes. The message should simply be don't make such a mess in the first
place as there is no easy way back, and restoration techniques and tools
have not proven to be the big picture answer.

Dave Fisk

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