CSIRO illuminates ‘bright spots’ in coastal ecosystem restoration

By on 13 January, 2021

Successful coastal restoration efforts could be achieved over large areas, deliver positive impacts for decades, expand restored areas by up to 10-times in size, and generate jobs. Image ©The Nature Conservancy.

CSIRO scientists have articulated a strategy by which efforts to restore degraded coastal ecosystems could be expanded over vast scales.

The research, published in Current Biology in December, identified successful restoration efforts globally that could be replicated and implemented in similar environments.

“Coastal ecosystems across the globe including saltmarshes, mangroves, seagrasses, oyster reefs, kelp beds and coral reefs have declined by up to 85 per cent over decades,” said Dr. Magan Saunders, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Senior Research Scientist.

“Identifying bright spots that have delivered successful coastal and marine restoration in the past enables us to apply this knowledge to help save marine areas that are struggling to recover from degradation.

“Re-establishing coastal marine ecosystems at large scales can support human health and wellbeing and boost the adaptation response to climate change.”

Globally, at least 775 million people have a high dependency on coastal ecosystems, whose restoration has recently been recognised by the UN, which declared the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to start from 2021.

Coastal ecosystems can also form a nature-based response to climate change, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere whilst protecting and stabilising shorelines from erosion.

The study found that by learning from and applying successful restoration programs appropriately, restored areas could be expanded by up to a factor of ten, delivering positive impacts and employment opportunities for decades.

Professor Brian Silliman, co-author and CSIRO Distinguished Fulbright Chair in Science and Technology and Professor at Duke University, USA, said investing into coastal restoration creates jobs and can be used as a strategy to boost economic recovery and coastal marine health.

“Restoration of marine habitats, such as kelp forests and oyster reefs, has improved commercial and recreational fishing in some countries, which boosted the local economy,” he said.

“In the USA, the propagation and dispersal of seagrass seeds resulted in seagrass meadows recovering in areas where they had been lost many decades ago, removing an estimated 170 tonnes of nitrogen and 630 tonnes carbon per year from the atmosphere.

“In another study, recovery of reefs impacted by blast fishing in Indonesia has been achieved by placing rocks or other hard structures underwater to help with coral colonisation, with persistent growth of coral recorded for more than 14 years.”

Dr Chris Gillies, The Nature Conservancy’s Oceans Program Director and a co-author on the study, said demonstrating that projects could be successful was important for securing investment into restoration.

“We are starting to see more and more investment into marine restoration in Australia,” Dr Gillies said.

“For example, the Australian Government recently invested $20 million into ‘Reef Builder’ to restore 20 of Australia’s lost shellfish reefs.”

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

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