Restoration Strategies for Coral Reefs Damaged by Recreational Activities: The Use of Sexual and Asexual Recruits



The unique marine ecosystems of coral reefs express varying levels of degradation as a result of increasing anthropogenic pressures. This is the main reason why more than 200 coral reef localities were proclaimed as natural reserves or marine parks under varying legislation, rules, and monitoring and management programs. Ironically, the conventional management plans increased accessibility to many reef localities and enhanced dramatically the impact of tourism on reef habitats. Recreational activities including SCUBA and skin diving, fishing, human trampling, sediment re-suspension, and other damage caused by “innocent” visitors are causing a rapid deterioration of many reefs. Their destruction requires years and decades for full recovery. I propose to rehabilitate such damaged habitats by the alternate strategy of “gardening coral reefs” with asexual and sexual recruits. Coral branches, colony fragments, and whole small colonies (asexual recruits) and laboratory or in situ settled planula-larvae (sexual recruits) are designed to be transplanted into denuded reefs for restoration. This approach is further improved when the sexual and asexual recruits are maricultured in situ within special protected areas, before being transplanted. The use of sexual recruits ensures an increase in genetic diversity. I discuss several methodologies and results already accumulated showing the applicability of this gardening strategy for rehabilitation of denuded coral reefs. This restoration strategy should be integrated with proper management similar to that of already established reforestation in terrestrial habitats. The best candidates for employing this strategy are the fast-growing coral species, usually branching forms and species that brood their planulae larvae.