The situation

Coral reefs are suffering degradation from a number of natural and human-induced causes. Tackling the root causes of degradation through effective coastal management measures is likely to be the best way forward for reducing damage and allowing reefs to return to viable healthy states. There are also opportunities for direct intervention to actively restore degraded coral reefs.

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Restoration includes passive or indirect management measures to remove impediments to natural recovery, as well as active or direct interventions such as transplantation.

Currently, there is only a rudimentary understanding of the complex processes that contribute to natural recovery of coral reef systems from disturbance and it is difficult to assess what the most appropriate restoration actions might be. Criteria are needed which specify the degree to which an injured site might benefit from better management and/or active restoration.

Coral reef restoration is in its infancy. We cannot create fully functional reefs. Active coral reef restoration has been carried out with some success at scales of up to a few hectares only.

Undoubtedly, the ability of reefs to recover from warming events, tropical storms and other acute disturbances is profoundly affected by the level of chronic anthropogenic disturbance. Where reefs are healthy and unstressed, they can often recover quickly (sometimes in as little as 5-10 years). Such reefs can be described as “resilient” in that they “bounce back” to something close to their pre-disturbance state following an impact. Whereas reefs that are already stressed by human activities, often show poor ability to recover.


Restoration: the act of bringing a degraded ecosystem back to, as nearly as possible, its original condition.

Rehabilitation: the act of partially or, more rarely, fully replacing structural or functional characteristics of an ecosystem that have been diminished or lost, or the substitution of alternative qualities or characteristics of those originally present with the proviso that they have more social, economic or ecological value than existed in the disturbed or degraded state.

Remediation: the act or process of remedying or repairing damage to an ecosystem.

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