Testing the waters

05 June, 2023

When it comes to restoration of corals on coral reefs, most attention is directed to the corals themselves. The focus tends to be on pragmatic questions such as: what species are best placed where? How to “plant” baby corals? And how can we scale up restoration in a cost-effective way?

However, marine biologist Maggie Johnson from KAUST is exploring even more fundamental and practical questions: how to accurately measure environmental conditions to optimize coral restoration? And, in doing this, how best to support coral reef managers and practitioners with very locally relevant advice?

Reef-building corals only thrive within a narrow range of environmental conditions. For example, they inhabit tropical waters because they prefer water temperatures between 20 to 28 degrees Celsius. As climate change causes sea temperatures to rise, coral reefs are increasingly pushed out of their watery thermal “comfort zone,” which is causing coral bleaching events and is contributing to the ongoing demise of reefs. One adaptation strategy is coral restoration programs that aim to conserve and rebuild coral reefs through “planting” baby corals likely to be more heat tolerant.

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