Researchers have proclaimed more than 60 percent of coral reefs worldwide are in danger of disappearing. As the world experiences longer summers and rising ocean temperature, corals are at an increasing risk to mounting threats. This summer, the greatest incidence of coral bleaching struck globally — the third worldwide bleaching since 1998. In the face of staggering statistics, researchers sprint to find a solution to protect and rehabilitate endangered coral ecosystems. From the Caribbean to Hawaii to the Philippines, new innovations are attempted to save the reefs. Measures that were once considered radical are now called forth in desperate times.
In 2005, Dave Vaughan discovered 1-centimeter pieces of coral grow 25 to 40 times faster. Under the Coral Reed Restoration Program, Vaughan’s team scatters microfragments over the skeletons of deceased coral throughout the Florida Keys. The pieces of coral then combine together and cover the reef, restoring segments of the community.
In the Philippines, Peter Harrison and his team attempt to replenish reefs battered by blast fishing. They collect larvae to be released beneath a mesh tent that envelops the destroyed reef. The larvae then settle into the old foundation to repopulate the reef.
At the other end of the Pacific, Ruth Gates studies the “winning corals” of Hawaii. Practicing selective breeding, Gates selects the most resilient, robust corals that have withstood warmer water and bleaching to reproduce in captivity.
However, a panacea does not exist to heal the ailing coral reefs of the world. Each method possesses disadvantages that prevent it from being the obvious solution. Microfragmentation requires intensive labor and time whilst creating reefs susceptible to disease due to each fragment being genetically identical. All of the techniques require time to become effective, but we must race to beat the next mass-bleaching event.
Humans have induced a sense of severity into our subsequent actions. How can we fix what has already be done? The alarming rate of loss is unprecedented without a clear solution in sight. These accounts of research provide a glimmer of hope in juxtaposition to the background of despair. We run a race to repair the world against a disturbing pace of loss. Today, we read the obituary of the Great Barrier Reef. Tomorrow, will we will continue to rehabilitate the reefs that still remain.