[Coral-List] Restoration and conservation Re: ICRS 2021 meeting session: Can Coral Reef Restoration Increase Coastal Protection?

sealab at earthlink.net sealab at earthlink.net
Sat Sep 12 20:05:08 UTC 2020

Dear Sarah,

I agree with you that all restoration projects are not alike and need to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

That said, the most legitimate, science-based efforts need to be held to high standards so that others have good models to follow.

Virtually every peer reviewed paper on restoration that I’ve read emphasizes the need to address both local and global stressors - that’s the science and I support it wholeheartedly. But who generally reads these papers? Pretty much just the coral science community. Who is there for the full exchange of ideas at (both actual and virtual) conferences on the subject? Those same dedicated coral scientists. Coral scientists know what is needed for corals to thrive. But who needs convincing that anthropogenic climate change is real and that if we don’t cut carbon emissions, improve water quality and maintain healthy levels of fish biomass we will continue to lose our coral reefs? That would be the public at large. It is the public that takes its cues from restoration projects and what I’m saying is that the central message that is emanating from many restoration projects is not the same as the science that you share and value. What would be the reaction of the coral science community if someone presented a paper on restoration that either ignored or diminished the role of major stressors? It would likely be challenged and that’s what we are doing here.

As for funding, why can’t all legitimate restoration projects add promoting the need to address stressors to their mandate? Why have I been told by some that that just isn’t their mission? How much could it cost to include advocating for action on water quality, over-fishing and climate change to their public outreach efforts? And if they are not doing that already, what could be the reason? All coral scientists working on restoration know the role that stressors play, why are some choosing to push them aside and instead hint that their specific methodology could be the ultimate solution?

You are the second person to recommend that I read “Coral Whisperers” and I’ll do it. In the meantime I’m at a loss to explain why there needs to be any conflict between pro-conservation and pro-restoration coral scientists. By all means, work on restoration, but be sure to tell the whole story . . . and that includes the part about the likely futility of all this blood and treasure if we don’t do it right.

Sincere regards,


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On 9/11/20, 2:03 PM, Sarah Frias-Torres via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:


The science of Ecological Restoration is well established and follows a set of science-based principles. I invite you to visit the Society for Restoration Ecology web site, which has links to standards and protocols in their "Resource Center" tab


Specifically, for coral reef restoration, what you call "planting out corals" is just one step in coral gardening, which is one of many techniques available in this scientific discipline of restoration ecology.

The aim of coral reef restoration is to restore ecological function. Science-based projects take into account all factors, from local to global stressors. Unfortunately, there are many "copy-cats", people that start 'planting corals" without going through all the steps of a science-based restoration project. Whether it is blind enthusiasm attached to ignorance or real malice, it needs evaluation in a case by case basis.

Also, to clarify a comment about funding (from a post related to this one), in my experience, none of the funding I have secured to implement coral reef restoration projects was taken away from the funding pie of conservation and climate change mitigation. This is not an issue of coral reef restoration taking away slices of the funding pie for conservation. We are not eating the pie and leaving our conservation colleagues hungry. We are making the funding pie bigger.

None of the coral reef restoration scientists I work with ignores local and global stressors to coral reefs. None of us thinks that restoration is the magic pill that will save coral reefs. Restoration is one more tool in the toolbox of saving coral reefs.

As I keep repeating over and over, to save coral reefs, conservation, restoration, and targeting the climate crisis must all work together.

Finally, on the Titanic analogy, there was a similar comment ("rearranging the deck chairs ") shared at the open forum during ICRS 2016 in Hawaii, saying that first, we must stop burning fossil fuels, and stop climate change, before we even consider coral reef restoration. My answer to this comment was that if we take this approach, there will be no point to do restoration by then.

The futile tug of war between pro-conservation and pro-restoration coral reefs scientists is nicely explained in "Coral Whisperers" by Irus Braverman. I strongly recommend reading this book to you and folks in Coral-list.

This is not a conservation vs. restoration issue.

It's not game over.

It's game on.

We must fight the coral reef crisis together, not against each other.


Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.

Twitter: @GrouperDoc

Science Blog: https://grouperluna.com/

Art Blog: https://oceanbestiary.com/


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