02 Aug Launch of the Bali Reef Rehabilitation Network

In a 1972 issue of Marine Pollution Bulletin, author Richard B. Stone discusses the dual benefits of improving coral reef habitat and managing waste by disposing solid refuse in the sea: “two birds are killed with one stone as the reefs are made of scrap which would otherwise litter the landscape”.

Today, enlightened as we are to the dangers of microplastics and other unintended consequences, dumping waste into the ocean is not widely advocated as a strategy to rehabilitate reefs. An abundance of other methods have arisen, though, as concerned scientists, conservationists, environmental managers, tourists and even the general public seek active ways to mitigate damage to coastal marine ecosystems. 

Coral reef rehabilitation—replacing structural or functional characteristics of a reef ecosystem that have been lost—is usually a more realistic goal than restoration, or returning a degraded reef to its original condition (Edwards and Gomez 2007). A reef damaged by dynamite fishing, for example, may regenerate its coral cover faster if artificial frames are installed to stabilize loose rubble while giving baby corals a stable place to settle and grow. The reef that develops may have a different composition of species than the original, but it can still function as a coral reef ecosystem.  

Typical goals of reef rehabilitation projects include increasing biodiversity, coral cover, fish abundance, reef productivity and reef structural complexity as well as generating revenue, creating employment opportunities and promoting public education through voluntourism.

While acknowledging good intentions, critics contend that the rush of enthusiasm for reef rehabilitation has led to many projects that are ineffective at best and ecologically harmful at worst (Scott 2019). Projects that fail to consider coral genetic and species diversity, for example, risk improving a reef’s aesthetic qualities in the short term at the expense of long-term ecological stability.

In Bali, a growing coalition of SCUBA professionals, environmental organizations, academics, government officials and citizens have initiated rehabilitation projects around the island. To encourage conversation and collaboration among these groups, the CTC convened a half-day discussion forum on August 2. Approximately 40 people representing 18 organizations gathered at the Center for Marine Conservation to introduce themselves and discuss issues common to reef rehabilitation projects. Keynote speaker Dr. Rahmadi Prasetyo of Universitas Dhyana Pura gave an overview of coral transplantation methods and highlighted numerous projects throughout Indonesia, both successful and unsuccessful. His talk was followed by 13 short presentations by participants, who described their activities and shared lessons learned. A round-table discussion then ensued, touching on topics like regulations and permitting, funding, water quality, long-term monitoring and maintenance and the role of tourists and volunteers in reef rehabilitation.

At the meeting’s end, many participants expressed an interest to continue exploring common issues and organize future events. The Bali Reef Rehabilitation Network was thus launched, including groups in Facebook and WhatsApp and an email listserv to support the initiative.

Further reading on reef rehabilitation:

Edwards, A. J., and E. D. Gomez. 2007. Reef Restoration Concepts and Guidelines : Making Sensible Management Choices in the Face of Uncertainty. https://ccres.net/resources/view/reef-restoration-concepts-and-guidelines

Scott, C. 2019. Coral Fragging Should be Banned. Conservation Diver. http://conservationdiver.com/coral-fragging-should-be-banned/

Stone, R. B. 1972. Artificial reefs of waste material for habitat improvement. Marine Pollution Bulletin 3 (2):27–28.      

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