The Australian Great Barrier Reef spans hundreds of thousands of square kilometers and is a vibrant ecosystem of colorful corals and a giant marine life.
However, a recent study found that 30 percent of its coral died during a nine-month heatwave from March to November 2016.
This discovery demonstrates the continuing threat to coral reefs around the world. In the past 30 years alone, over 50 percent of coral reefs in the world have died.
Warm waters, pollution and overfishing are just some of the many factors that influence these unique ecosystems.
Fortunately, many researchers, ecologists and activists from around the world have used their resources to preserve and restore these vital structures.
The Importance of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, but have long been considered one of Earth's most valuable ecosystems.
These important structures support more species per year unit than any other existing marine environment, including a quarter of the world's fish and 30 percent of the total marine biodiversity. Species such as corals, shells, lobsters, seahorses, sponges and sea turtles are just a few of the many creatures that rely on coral reefs for survival.
But not only marine species rely on coral reefs for their livelihood.
Approximately 500 million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for food and income, with 30 million people relying almost entirely on reefs, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .
Coral reefs provide income to coastal communities through fishing, recreation and tourism, serving millions of people each year as an important food source and coastal protection.
In addition, coral reefs contribute billions of dollars each year to the economies of the world.
It is therefore not surprising that their continued degradation will have significant ecological, economic and cultural impacts on people and places around the world.
"The livelihoods of many people depend heavily on fishing, tourism, and coastal protection, all of which are provided by sound coral reefs," said Aric Bickel Project and Workshop Manager at SECORE International [1
Unfortunately, coral reefs are exposed to persistent threats and losses.
Scientists project this on the current level of degradation, 90 percent of all coral reefs will be severely threatened by 2030.
What is the killing of coral reefs?
Increasingly, coral reefs are under stress due to rising sea temperatures, pollution, invasive fishing, careless tourism and natural phenomena.
However, according to the NOAA, the three main threats to coral reefs – climate change, unsustainable fishing and land-based pollution – are due to human activities.
Of these three, perhaps the greatest threat to coral reefs is rising sea temperatures .
Although coral reefs can provide food, shelter, and other resources to thousands of creatures, they are quite calm sensitive structures, especially when it comes to heat.
In order for a reef system to form, coral larvae attach themselves first to coastal rocks or to ground. The larvae then grow into coral polyps or tiny animals that excrete calcium carbonate to build an exoskeleton.
During this time, coral polyps develop a symbiotic relationship with algae that helps them to grow. As they grow, they excrete more calcium carbonate, causing more and more coral polyps to attach to the surface, eventually forming a coral reef.
But when water overheats near a reef, the coral algae begin to produce toxins and the corals drive them out of their tissue for self-defense. Known as Coral Bleach this process transforms the corals into a ghostly white that makes them stressed and susceptible to starvation or disease.
"When corals are stressed, one of the first things they do is stop them from reproducing, they just do not have the energy to produce all those gametes, eggs, and sperm because they're trying to survive," said Bickel.
But a bleaching event does not necessarily mean that a coral reef dies. When water temperatures drop quickly enough, corals can heal themselves by growing new algae.
Unfortunately, this possibility does not exist for many reefs.
Due to increasingly warm oceans, coral bleaching worldwide has become five times more common than 40 years ago.
Impact of Climate Change
Worldwide, the ocean has warmed by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, according to NOAA.
In addition, rising sea temperatures from 2014 to 2017 due to an El Niño weather pattern led to the longest, most widespread and most detrimental bleaching event [1965-9016].
The event was so bad that scientists reported in 2016 that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef are bleached.
Since then, mass bleaching has been documented in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, Australia. Hawaii and Florida Keys – a reality that has a serious impact on the planet.
Coral bleaching can not only damage the many species that depend on reefs for food and shelter, but also slow down reef growth, a problem that will hit coastal communities hard.
According to a recent study by the University of Exeter in the UK, bleaching in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans has so greatly affected coral growth that many reefs will soon be unable to keep up with rising sea levels.
This is problematic for coastal communities, as coral reefs are often a natural barrier against erosion and flooding.
"The average vertical reef growth rates in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean regions are currently around 2 mm per year, but projections of even modest sea-level rise averages around 6 mm per year," said Chris Perry ] a professor of physical geography at the University of Exeter
"As a result, there is an increasing divergence between the two and this will begin to reduce the ability of the reefs to limit coastal wave exposure – with evident increasing threats to coastal communities through coastal erosion and Floods, "he continued.
Unless urgent measures to promote CO2 emissions are initiated by 2100, Perry fears that the reef floods will significantly harm coastal communities.
"What we need is essentially a combination of global (policy) action against CO2 emissions – this is important because it contributes to the warming that can affect reefs through bleaching events and because it drives sea-level rise problem, and we need to see local action to protect reefs and reduce the impact of local stressors such as poor water quality (from sewage, etc.), "he said.
What can be done to save corals?
Considering the severity of coral reef degradation, which is at the forefront of many scientists, numerous approaches to coral regeneration have been adopted.
Large-scale Restorative Approach
One method that has gained popularity in recent years has to do with the sexual reproductive ability of coral reefs .
Working with an international research team, SECORE has developed an approach to sexual recovery sowing that could be used for major efforts.
The idea behind this approach is to collect massive amounts of coral larvae during a spawning period and attach them to specially designed "tetrapod" substrates that can become wedged between the cracks in the reefs.
Once the larvae become the first coral polyps, researchers can drop the substrates of boats onto degraded reefs, just as farmers scatter seed in a field.
"By designing substrates (we call them seeding units) that can settle themselves and be sown from a boat or by other methods (much like a farmer sows seeds ), we can eliminate much of the human labor required and greatly reduce the final cost of each planted coral, "said Bickel.
Compared to manual redevelopment efforts by loons, which take several hundred to several thousand man-hours, this method could be achieved in less than 50 hours, making it 90 percent more efficient for reef restoration.
"If we want the restoration to play a more important role in protecting coral reefs, we need to think in new directions," said Bickel. "Our sowing approach is an important step in achieving this goal, as it allows us to handle a large number of corals in a very short time at significantly lower cost."
In addition, this seeding process allows researchers to genetically engineer. Englisch: bio-pro.de/en/region/stern/magazine/…3/index.html diversity that is essential for the preparation of future reefs for rising sea temperatures, he explained.
Research has been tested on reefs in Curaçao, Mexico, the Bahamas, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Philippines.
SECORE has teamed with the California Academy of Sciences and the Nature Conservancy to achieve its goals of producing one million coral by 2021 as part of its goal with [GlobalGlobal] Coral Restoration Project
A "Mixed" Restoration Approach
While Bickel stated that the seeding approach could be tackled worldwide, he emphasized that there is no "miracle weapon" for the restoration of coral reefs.
In other words, all reefs are different, so not all riffs need the same recovery methods – some may require a mix of recovery approaches, others may not.
Building on this idea, researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara have championed the integration of unique natural processes and environmental forces to promote restoration efforts.
Inspired by a gathering of Caribbean restoration experts led by the 19659003 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the researchers described a scientific framework [1965-9016] for decades to improve restoration coral reef ecology research.
Finally, they suggested that scientists should study the specific contextual ecological qualities of the reefs they work with to perform efficient and appropriate restoration practices.
"Recognizing that environmental processes play an important but underestimated role in restoring coral, the framework we propose is a combination of input, survey results, and lessons learned." Mark Ladd a PhD candidate at UC Santa Barbara, who led the research
Researchers noted that restorers can control factors such as density, diversity, and identity of transplanted corals, as well as site selection and transplantation design, to achieve positive results Restore feedback processes.
"It is important that we understand the important processes that coral reef communities are forming to effectively incorporate and promote – or negatively reduce – positive processes to improve coral recovery," said Ladd.
This research confirms that it is important to understand the functions and practices of each coral reef ecosystem before any restoration is undertaken.
Many research teams have also initiated smaller, more local efforts to support coral reefs.
For example, a recent report from Duke University showed that local efforts, such as protecting coral reefs from predators, can significantly increase the coral's resistance to bleaching.
In this study, researchers focused on Florida Keys brain corals, which are known to be very susceptible to snail displacement.
In 2014, during a three-month rise in sea temperatures, researchers went to the Keys and physically cleared slugs from some places in the brain coral. Their idea was to see if the removal of predators could help corals recover from warmer temperatures and regenerate them, and therefore reduce bleaching.
And it worked.
When the researchers returned to the reefs after the water had cooled, they found that the corals bleached with fewer snails by only 50 percent, while the corals with high screw density bleached almost 100 percent.
"Our findings suggest that local conservation efforts can play an important role in the conservation of coral reefs, in addition to comprehensive global efforts to mitigate or halt climate change . "Said Elizabeth Shaver a 2018 graduate of the Nicholas School of the Environment of the Duke who is now a coral restorer, with the Reef Resilience Program of the Nature Conservancy.
Shaver suspects that it is likely several other interventions that can be initiated at the local level to protect coral reefs from warm temperatures.
"Nutrient pollution and overfishing of herbivorous parrotfish are common local threats to coral reefs, and these two threats may exacerbate coral bleaching in warm temperature events, and we need to see if removing these threats can make corals even more resilient," she said.
Researchers open the discussion about initiating localized efforts at a time when people are increasingly saying that local action is not enough of a difference, and that more money should be invested in global efforts.
"Our research emphasizes that further experiments need to be conducted to test other local management measures that help corals to be more resilient to climate change and give them time, as mitigation actions will be a long and difficult process, said Shaver
"It is urgent to develop effective strategies to restore the corals and the invaluable services that they provide," said Ladd. Fortunately, SECORE researchers predict that the Coral recovery efforts are likely to contribute to reforestation as often as possible and will help to make the landscape of future reefs as good as possible.
However, Bickel added that restoration alone would not solve the coral reef crisis.  Instead, researchers from around the world believe that coral reefs Life will not last long unless global efforts are made to combat climate change.
Until then, the restoration is our best hope.
"Restoring these services should be our focus," said Bickel. "Yet coral re-building can only give us some time, time we need to use to solve the biggest challenge of our time – global climate change."
Natalie Colarossi is a Journalist and Global Studies Minor on her undergraduate degree from Ohio University. She comes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has dealt with a range of topics, including art, culture and politics, music, music and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.