DURHAM, N.C. – A new paper by Australian and American scientists outlines some of the greatest coastal restoration successes in recent decades and identifies lessons we can learn from them to protect and restore similar environments worldwide.

“Identifying these bright spots gives us a window to understand which restoration methods work best over time and why – knowledge that can help focus current efforts and boost positive impacts on biodiversity, local economies and human wellbeing,” said Brian Silliman, Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke University.

Coastal ecosystems around the globe, including saltmarshes, mangroves, seagrasses, oyster reefs, kelp beds and coral reefs, have declined by up to 85% over recent decades, the study notes.

By adapting and scaling up restoration methods that yielded past success, we could re-establish these ecosystems at large scales, expanding the size of restored areas by up to 10 times, boosting their adaptation to climate change, and generating positive impacts on human health and people’s livelihoods for decades to come, said Megan Saunders, oceans and atmosphere senior research scientist at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

The researchers published their peer-reviewed paper Dec. 22 in Current Biology

The paper comes as the United Nations Panel on a Sustainable Ocean Economy is emphasizing the need for large-scale restorations to repair coastal ecosystems worldwide that are struggling to recover from degradation, and as the UN’s “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” is set to begin on New Year’s Day.

In their paper, Saunders, Silliman and their colleagues cite numerous examples of restoration bright spots that can inspire and inform future efforts.

“A range of techniques have resulted in the significant restoration of salt marshes, coral reefs and seagrass meadows in Australia,” Saunders said. “For example, CSIRO is harvesting coral larvae in the Great Barrier Reef to boost large-scale coral restoration efforts. Simple changes to how we plant saltmarshes have also resulted in doubled survivorship and biomass.”

In the United States, the propagation and dispersal of seagrass seeds has resulted in seagrass meadows recovering in areas where they were destroyed decades earlier, removing an estimated 170 tons of nitrogen and 630 tons carbon per year from Earth’s atmosphere, Silliman said.

“In Indonesia, the recovery of reefs impacted by blast fishing has been achieved by placing rocks or other hard structures underwater to help with coral colonization, resulting in persistent growth of coral there for more than 14 years,” he added. “And the restoration of marine habitats such as kelp forests and oyster reefs has improved commercial and recreational fishing in many countries, which has boosted local economies and created new jobs.”

At least 775 million people depend on coastal marine ecosystems for jobs, food or protection from extreme weather such as hurricanes and flooding. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stabilizing shorelines in the face of sea-level rise, these ecosystems are also on the front lines in the battle against climate change, he said, and they also play important roles in mitigating threats to the marine environment from non-sustainable coastal development, land-use change and overfishing.

Demonstrating that local restoration efforts yield such broad and long-term benefits can go a long way toward spurring increased funding for these efforts, the study’s author note.

"We are starting to see more and more investment in marine restoration,” said Chris Gillies, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Oceans Program in Australia. “For example, the Australian government recently invested $20 million into ‘Reef Builder’ to restore 20 of Australia’s lost shellfish reefs.”

The new paper was a collaboration between CSIRO, Duke, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales and the Sydney Institute for Marine Science.

CITATION: “Bright Spots in Coastal Ecosystem Restoration,” Megan I. Saunders, Christopher Doropoulos, Elisa Bayraktarov, Russell C. Babcock, Daniel Gorman, Aaron M. Eger, Maria L. Vozzo, Chris L. Gillies, Mathew A. Vanderklift, Andy D.L. Steven, Rodrigo H. Bustamante and Brian R. Silliman; Dec. 22, 2020, Current Biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.056

Note: This story was adapted from a news release issued by CSIRO. You can read the original text here.