Restoring Damaged Coral Reefs Using Mass Coral Larval Reseeding
Funding Agency: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
Lead Researchers: Patrick Cabaitan, Ph.D., University of the Philippines – Marine Environment
and Resources Foundation
Dexter dela Cruz, Ph.D., Postdoctoral researcher Southern Cross University
Professor Jeff Bennett, Professor of Environmental Management,
Australian National University
Researchers and contributors: Charlon Ligson, Elizabeth Gomez, Rickdane Gomez,
Dr. Kerry Cameron, Tara Abrina, Katy Horan, Dr. Nadine Boulotte
Coral reefs are ecosystems that have immense ecological, economic and cultural values. They provide essential ecosystem services not only to coastal communities but also to national economies. However, human activities such as destructive fishing and coastal development have compounded the already detrimental effects brought about by climate change to coral reef ecosystems. Degraded reefs take many decades to recover and without active intervention, may not even recover at all. By restoring degraded reefs, coastal and marine ecosystems and coastal communities have the potential to thrive.
The seven-year (2015 – 2021) project Restoring damaged coral reefs using mass coral larval reseeding aimed to actively restore damaged reef coral communities in the Bolinao-Anda Reef Complex (BARC) of Pangasinan in northern Luzon using mass coral larval restoration. It was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
The development of a new technique for collecting coral spawn slicks at sea, enabled the successful rearing of millions of coral larvae at the Bolinao Marine Laboratory and in reef pools. Spawn slicks are rare events that occur when corals release eggs and sperm bundles during spawning periods, which happens only a few times a year, usually following a full moon. From seven coral larval reef restoration trials conducted in degraded reef sites of Anda and Alaminos in Pangasinan, multiple new breeding populations were established. This shows that coral restoration can be successful even on severely degraded reefs. Continuous monitoring of restored corals has shown persistent survivorship and growth. The project’s evaluation of the social, environmental and financial impacts of other reef restoration strategies, i.e. coral gardening and mass larval enhancement techniques, showed that coral reef restoration in the Philippines would generate net social welfare gains.
The project also held training workshops on reef restoration to local government units, NGOs, and local community members to build their capacity in coral spawning and larval rearing techniques, as well as best practices for reef restoration techniques.
Based on the successful outcomes of the project it is recommended that the coral restoration process be scaled up across multiple regions in the Philippines by establishing and training coral restoration networks involving local communities, local government units, researchers and the private sector using a range of innovative techniques to restore coral and fish assemblages and essential reef ecosystem services on larger areas of degraded reefs.