Replanting the bluffs of the sea

“We have been replanting forests for 4,000 years, but we are only just now learning how to revive a coral reef.”

Mineo Okamoto is a marine biologist at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. He’s one of the  researchers leading the charge to restore Japan’s coral reefs, which have suffered a reported 90 percent dieback in the last decade.  Coral reefs worldwide are suffering, due mostly to bleaching induced by warming waters and runoff from agriculture and industry. Among the many techniques being used to save the reefs is coral transplantation, a method that involves taking bits of healthy coral and replanting them on and around decimated reefs.

A New York Times article published yesterday describes the painstaking efforts of the Japanese government to restore its largest reef, near the southern end of the Okinawa archipelago. Initiated in 2005, the program has planted 13,000 pieces of coral and cost around $2 million.

At first the, the effort showed little success. Only a third of the replanted corals in Japan’s Sekisei Lagoon have survived, falling victim to typhoon- force waves and coral bleaching.  But new technologies are brightening the picture: Okamato and others developed ceramic stands for the corals to root in as they grow, and divers now plant young corals in areas more protected from waves. Both of these techniques have begun to improve coral recruitment and survivorship.

Read the article to find out more about the labor-intensive effort, the Environment Ministry’s political stake and the “friendly race” among scientists to develop the best coral transplanting technology.

Photo credit: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Author: Christine Buckley

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