Coral reefs around the world have been suffering for decades from a variety of global and local threats. The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its fifth major bleaching event in the past eight years, with projections indicating that heat events will increase in frequency and magnitude over the coming years. These trajectories increasingly indicate that coral reefs are unlikely to persist naturally on their own. Whilst address climate change is the priority, even with immediate reductions in emissions it will take decades for the environment to stabilise. Consequently, there has been a global recognition for the need for active reef intervention, illustrated by the current UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, as well as locally through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Reef 2050 Plan. This has resulted in the development of an active interventions toolbox to buy time and develop tools to contribute to global efforts supporting reef health.


The consensus of opinion is that whilst coral reefs are resilient and able to recover by themselves, under the right circumstances, current impacts from climate change are too large and too closely spaced together, so that reefs have insufficient recovery time between damaging events. This lack of recovery is compounded by the many other stressors from agriculture, as well as industry and urbanisation locally affecting reefs. Intervening to help recovery and build resilience are now very real options, but a situation we hoped would never be required.

Whilst some believe reef-wide interventions won’t become affordable, most see that all options are worthy of some level of investigation to determine ‘feasibility’, so different intervention ideas are all in various stages of research and development. Intervention options are broad and range from mapping and monitoring, to help management decision-making, to eco-engineering improved reef conditions and facilitating coral biology that promotes resilience, such as larval enhancement, to finding or breeding heat tolerant corals. In the meantime, two things are clear: (1) good policy to limit climate change is the only long-term hope for coral reefs, (2) there are still huge logistical and financial constraints that restrict the ability to grow and plant corals affordably on a large scale.


From a tourism operator’s view-point, an important gap has been identified: reef adaptation and/or rehabilitation can be deployed at scale that is not enough for reef-wide significance, but enough to influence the sustainability of the tourism industry. This can be activated straight away. At this scale, intervention has an important localised ecological effect, but potentially an enormous socio-economic effect. The patchiness of recent bleaching, COTS and cyclone impacts means that there are still many excellent sites for tourists to visit. However, whereas in the past choosing a reef area at random would likely be healthy, it is now increasingly likely a random choice will be a reef area of poor health. The risk of deterioration of tourism sites, and a subsequent reduction of visitors due to climate change is very high, unless adaptation options are increased. The best ecological outcome will result when an intervention starts before a reef has deteriorated too far.


Our purpose is to integrate scientific solutions into community-based stewardship practices to increase the resilience of local reefs and the communities that rely on them. While our learnings have primarily occurred on the Great Barrier Reef, we see tour learnings as transferrable between reef locations. We aim to share the lessons learned, including the failures, to maximise collective learning. We ultimately see active reef interventions as a toolbox of approaches and believe local solutions through the Coral Nurture Program are complementarity to current and future innovative solutions.

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