Ecological Restoration

Management interventions that rehabilitate damaged coral reef habitats and replenish ecological structure and function in impacted areas.

The restoration of coral reefs that have been impacted can have social, cultural, economic and conservation benefit to communities. Ecological restoration approaches aim to re-build habitat facilitating the return of both sessile and mobile species. However, unless the source of the impact is simultaneously addressed (if human), conventional reef restoration methods will fail either in the short or medium-term. For example, if the threat is chronic and pervasive, such as degraded water quality, even artificially supplemented reef habitats will not survive. Some new techniques, such as applying low voltage direct electrical current to an artificial reef framework, have utility for restoring reefs in locations where they can no longer grow due to environmental conditions. However, restoration activities are not a substitute for conservation efforts and should complement effective coral reef management.

Ecological restoration has been a widely debated topic with some advocates prepared to consider all interventions for rehabilitating coral reefs while others are less sure about managers so actively intervening.  Many practical tools exist for guiding managers in deciding when restoration is likely to have benefits for coral reefs, and what methods are most effective. Information on the theory of coral reef restoration is less available, mostly to be found in scientific journals and publications.


  • The Coral Reef Restoration Handbook (Precht, 2006) is available at: This link gives a summary of what is in the book, lists the table of contents and reviews are given. The book may be prohibitively expensive for Caribbean reef managers to purchase (US$139.95) but individual chapters are available for download for 72-hour duration for US$20. Free download is available if the user has a Direct Access account. The Handbook is likely worth the investment for Caribbean managers wishing to implement a coral restoration project.
  • The Coral Restoration Foundation: was created to develop off-shore coral nurseries and reef restoration programs for critically endangered coral reefs at local, national, and international levels. Different restoration techniques are described for both staghorn and elkhorn corals (e.g. disk nursery and tree nursery) and case studies are presented from Bonaire and Columbia. The techniques used and gallery would be of particular interest for Caribbean reef managers wishing to establish coral nurseries and conduct restoration activities.
  • A Reef Resilience Toolkit module on coral restoration is available at this link from a TNC website: From this link, a number of pages can be accessed relating to coral restoration, including; physical restoration, biological restoration, coral transplantation and monitoring and maintenance. This is an excellent, user-friendly resource for any Caribbean manager looking to establish a coral restoration project. Various restoration methodologies are described as are two case studies (Fiji and Florida Keys).
  • The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) has theme sheets on coral reef rehabilitation and mangrove restoration as part of their marine protected area toolkit: This 2-page brief describes techniques used in coral rehabilitation such as increasing available space and transplanting corals. A case study from Kenya is provided and there is a list of further reading material. The mangrove restoration publication details how to establish a mangrove restoration project and gives examples from the WIO of successful restoration projects.  Though from outside the Caribbean region, the reef rehabilitation and mangrove restoration  techniques and examples from the WIO are relevant to undertaking these practices in the Caribbean.
  • NOAA’s Environmental Restoration Program includes tools for assessing environmental impacts, and examples of restoration activities: Specific themes include oil spills and hazardous waste assessment and restoration. There is a lot of detail of Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA); an online mapping tool that integrates both static and real-time data. This site is useful as background reading for Caribbean reef managers as it shows how NOAA goes about assessment and restoration after a major impact event.

Key Publications

Marine ecosystem restoration: costs and benefits for coral reefs (2005) Goreau TJ and Hilbertz W.World Resource Review, Vol. 17, No. 3: 375-409.