A Review of Efforts to Enhance Coral Reef Resilience in Hawaiʻi and Florida with Emphasis on Coral Restoration Techniques: Implications for Policies to Protect and Restore Coral Reef Ecosystems
Coral reefs are among one of the planet's most vital ecosystems. Corals take up less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, yet their impact on marine ecology is immeasurable. Coral reefs have been vulnerable to extinction since the 1950s. Climate change, global warming, mass bleaching due to ocean warming events, agricultural runoff, sedimentation, disruptive fishing practices, tourist traffic, and a multitude of other various local stressors all play into the story that global stressors have to tell: that coral reefs are in imminent danger without massive shifts in policy, enforcement, monitoring, and anthropogenic intervention. Aggressive restoration efforts are needed in order to buy coral reefs more time and encourage growth in highly degraded areas where scientists are observing genetically favorable coral species that can withstand warmer, more acidic oceanic environments. We explore how two American research teams identified thermally tolerant coral stocks in Hawai‘i and in the Florida Keys via heat stress testing and engineered resilient corals for outplanting via selective breeding. This unique methodology and approach of coral conservation and restoration speaks volumes to techniques that can be utilized and implemented in current and future research and development efforts. This paper has an emphasis on coral restoration techniques and the specific genotypes that exhibit resilience to increased temperature stress. Scalable coral restoration efforts on a domestic level are analyzed and discussed. Three primary policy recommendations are made: (1) Identifying and addressing local stressors that can be mitigated where possible to make every reasonable effort to do so with the resources available based on geographical location. Such as mitigating the overreliance and poor management of land-based pollutants including agricultural runoff, sedimentation, sewage, cesspools, disruptive fishing practices and tourism traffic. Maintaining the goal of reshaping sustainable travel mentalities and practices while enhancing the education of visitors (2) enhancing research and development efforts to target genetic favorability of thermally tolerant corals and, (3) increasing the visibility of Marine Protected Areas for regions which have been deemed the most viable for reef restoration long-term. Without coral reefs, the marine ecosystem could collapse. Not all corals will survive climate change, but increased knowledge about resilient corals that can be selectively bred and that are known to be warmer temperature-tolerant will buy current survivors more time. Implementing scalable restorative efforts on a domestic level will contribute to the body of literature long-term that can aid in global efforts to restore and protect coral reefs.
Coral Reefs, Ocean Acidification, Conservation, Reef Restoration, Environmental Policy, Marine Protected Areas, Tourism