EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 3, 2013

Coral comeback


In the face of this decline, some coral specialists and conservationists say passive inaction would be a grave mistake. They argue that the results of the nascent coral restoration work will be seen in coming years.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, scientists with The Nature Conservancy have reared some 2,500 coral colonies and transplanted over 1,000 fragments to local reefs with the aid of U.S. stimulus money. In the Dominican Republic, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation in the thriving tourist town of Punta Cana has planted some 1,200 fragments of Acropora coral, a genus that includes staghorn and elkhorn.

“What started as an experiment to protect the endangered Acropora species has become one of the largest nurseries in the Caribbean and a laboratory for other resorts and researchers to conduct restoration work,” said Jake Kheel, the foundation’s environmental director.

The Key Largo, Florida-based Coral Restoration Foundation, a pioneer in efforts to revitalize stressed reefs, has helped the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire set up coral nurseries. Meanwhile, in southern Jamaica, researchers are feeding low-voltage electricity to young coral to try and spur growth, a method that has been used in places like Indonesia and Malaysia.

Some coral experts say the labor-intensive reef restoration projects may be increasingly popular but they have yet to see any significant successes out of them. These critics believe the scope of the problem is simply too vast and restoration efforts don’t address the underlying, accelerating forces collapsing reefs.

“It responds more to the very human need to ‘do something’ in the face of calamity, even if what you do is really a waste of time. Prayer would be just as useful,” said Roger Bradbury, an ecologist and adjunct professor of resource management at Australian National University in Canberra.

Bradbury argues that coral restoration actually diverts scarce resources away from what should be researchers’ main focus, which is what to do with reef regions after the reefs are gone. “The reefs just won’t be there, but something will — a new sort of ecosystem,” he said.

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