Coral Restoration using Larval Propagation in the Philippines & Australia

Coral growth on a reef in the Philippines after four years of the project. Photo @ Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University

Coral growth on a reef in the Philippines after four years of the project. Photo @ Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University

Listen to a new podcast interview with Dr. Peter Harrison, Director of the Marine Ecology Research Center at Southern Cross University about his mass larval propagation and restoration projects in the Philippines and Australia. We got a chance to sit down with Dr. Harrison during the Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium in Cairns, Australia and ask about the methods he’s used for restoration, what has led to success in his projects, and advice for managers and practitioners interested in starting restoration projects.

Listen to the interview

Interview Transcript
Reef Resilience (RR): Hi everyone! Today, Reef Resilience is interviewing Dr. Peter Harrison, Director of the Marine Ecology Research Center at Southern Cross University about his coral restoration efforts in the Indo-Pacific. Peter, can you briefly describe the coral restoration projects that you’ve done to date in the Philippines – for instance the kinds of methods you’ve used and partners that you’ve worked with to do this project?

Peter Harrison (PH): So what we’ve done so far is eight successful coral larval restoration projects, five in the Philippines and three on the Great Barrier Reef. In the Philippines we’ve been working for the last five years, and what we’re doing is capturing coral spawn from healthy corals, rearing it, and so we’re getting high rates of fertilization, lots of larval development, and raising millions of larvae each year. Then we’re putting those larvae directly back on the reef systems. So our work in larval propagation is a bit different to most other research groups around the world we’re focusing on trying to get the maximum success rates directly on the reef. The interesting thing about the Philippines is these are really highly degraded reef systems – they used to have spectacular coral cover – and with blast fishing over many decades, Crown-of-Thorns outbreaks, bleaching, typhoons, everything thrown at it, the the reef is now moribund and there is no natural recruitment happening at a scale that will help that reef recover naturally. So what we’re doing is catching the last remnants of the healthy populations, breeding millions of coral larvae, and putting them back on the reef, and we’re getting some fantastic results.

RR: That’s great. Actually, my question for you is about your results. Do you think these projects have been successful and what do you think has led to their success?

PH: The project outcomes have been fantastic, as good as we would’ve hoped given how bad these reef systems are, so it offers a little bit of hope for what might do in other regions around the world where really highly degraded reef systems have become the norm on what was really spectacular coral reef environments. So what we’ve done so far is we’ve used a range of different coral species, some fast growing Acropora and some slower growing brain corals, and among the fast growing corals we are getting spectacular results. We’re getting growth that’s occurring so quickly that we’re getting breeding initially after 3 years after the larval settled on the reef, so they’ve grown now up to a half meter in diameter – so really, really fast growth. This last year and a couple of years ago, we captured the spawn from the three corals that we’ve settled as larvae and have grown to breeding size and we put those larvae back into other parts of the reef. Surprisingly, we have even faster growth rates in the second generation of corals and we now have the world’s fastest growth to breeding age of any Acropora in the world, so we’ve got a world record. They’ve become breeding age and size at 2 years. So we’ve closed the life cycle directly on the reef for the first time within 2 years, and even highly degraded systems are amenable to this sort of work.

RR: So you have a lot of experience in this area and have done a lot of work, and I was wondering for our managers if you have any advice for new people that are starting in this field – managers or scientists or practitioners?

PH: Yes, there’s great opportunities. Each reef system is a little bit unique, the circumstances are unique, what sort of resources are available, what condition the reef is in, whether or not it’s still got three-dimensional structure that can provide habitats for coral larvae, if it’s been completely wiped out by major typhoons/cyclone impacts and is stripped bare, then you might need to think about some sort of three-dimensional structure coming back in with some fragmentation studies to slow the movement of water down to allow coral larvae in the future to increase in terms of recruitment. I guess the other key message is that we know that probably 95% of the so-called coral restoration projects have relied on fragmentation, and we’ve seen relatively few of those truly successful. The larger scale nursery processes, even though they are more expensive, that are working in the Caribbean with endangered Acropora species are a good example of how large-groups, really well-focused, thinking of this over multi-year programs, can actually come up with a meaningful increase in biomass. But we are still operating at small scale, and one of the advantages of the larval restoration approach is theoretically you can scale this up to much large scales than we are currently doing with asexual fragmentation and coral gardening approaches. We’ve got to two 100 meter square patches of reefs that we’ve been dealing with on the Great Barrier Reef and more recently back in the Philippines. My aim now is to build to a half hectare and then 1 hectare areas with this mass larval restoration process and hopefully in the future we’ll be operating at kilometer scales. When we are operating at kilometer scales, you’re really talking about reef restoration as opposed to smaller scale coral restoration.

RR: Well you’ve given us a lot to think about and provided a lot of great information, so thank you so much for sitting down with us today.

PH: You’re very welcome.

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Learning from Reef Restoration Experiences Around the World Webcast

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July 17, 2018

Broadcast live from the Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium in Cairns, Australia, experts from around the globe share lessons learned from years working on coral restoration. From offshore coral nurseries, to restoration mitigation techniques, to climate change adaptation, this presentation session seeks to foster knowledge sharing and exchange between managers and practitioners across the globe.

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Plastic Waste Associated With Disease On Coral Reefs

Abstract: Plastic waste can promote microbial colonization by pathogens implicated in outbreaks of disease in the ocean. We assessed the influence of plastic waste on disease risk in 124,000 reef-building corals from 159 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region. The likelihood of disease increases from 4% to 89% when corals are in contact with plastic. Structurally complex corals are eight times more likely to be affected by plastic, suggesting that microhabitats for reef-associated organisms and valuable fisheries will be disproportionately affected. Plastic levels on coral reefs correspond to estimates of terrestrial mismanaged plastic waste entering the ocean. We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40% by 2025. Plastic waste management is critical for reducing diseases that threaten ecosystem health and human livelihoods.

Author: Lamb, J. B., B.L. Willis, E.A. Fiorenza, C.S. Couch, R. Howard, D.N. Rader, D. Harvell
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Science 359(6374).

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Strategic Communication Mentored Online Course

Comm AnnJanuary 16 – February 8, 2018

Looking to influence behavior or raise awareness about an issue to advance your conservation efforts? A new Strategic Communication Mentored Online Course can help you communicate effectively to reach your conservation goal! This three-week mentored training, which is only a 6-8 hour time commitment, features hands-on exercises, interactive webinars and quizzes, and guidance from mentors and other managers. We’ve demystified strategic communication and simplified the planning process so you can work on your own project as you learn. This course is free and open to anyone, but is geared toward coral reef managers and practitioners. The course content can be found in the communication module.

Important Dates:

  • December 18 – January 16: Course registration is open. Registration closes January 17
  • January 16: Course orientation and introductory webinar (45 minutes)
  • January 17 – January 24: Complete three self-paced lessons and worksheets on the communication planning process: establish your goal & objectives, assess the context for your efforts, and identify your target audience(s) (~2.5 hours)
  • January 25: Webinar 2 – Review concepts and discussion (45 minutes)
  • January 26 – February 7: Complete four self-paced lessons and worksheets on the communication planning process: make your message matter, identify messengers and tactics, measure your impact, and create a summary of your plan (~3.5 hours)
  • February 8: Webinar 3 – Review concepts, discussion, and course conclusion (30 minutes)
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Assisted Evolution: A Novel Tool to Overcome the Conservation Crisis?

Assisted Evolution Announcement PhotoThis symposium was live streamed as part of the Coral Restoration Consortium webinar series in conjunction with The Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and “The Future Ocean” cluster in Kiel. Speakers shared information on new approaches for the conservation of coral reefs such as assisted colonization and assisted evolution and synthetic biology. View the presentation recordings below.


Welcome and introduction – Marlene Wall, Geomar, Germany

Session 1: Shifting paradigms in conservation: social, public and scientific landscape of conservation genetics
Objective: The aim of session 1 is to (i) discuss new approaches for the conservation of natural environments, such as assisted colonization, assisted evolution and synthetic biology and (ii) introduce the current legal, public and scientific framework of novel methods in conservation.

Session 2: Assisted evolution in corals: Opportunities, applications, challenges, and limitations
Objective: The aim is to introduce how assisted evolution might change our way of restoring natural marine environments. What new tools are available that can improve the selection of environmental stress resistance and be implemented in conservation? What are the promises and perils of such approaches?

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The Social Life of Okinawan Corals

In Japan, degradation of the nation’s southwestern coral reefs has been identified as a pressing environmental problem, and corals have been transformed into valuable commodities for conservation. This research analyzes the emergence of “restoration corals”—corals produced for ecological restoration—in Okinawa. Individuals briefly own these corals before they relinquish them to the coral reef, and the corals resume their lives as indistinguishable pieces of the sea. Following Kopytoff (1986), I examine the production, exchange, consumption, and de-commodification of this conservation commodity. I find that the social life of coralline commodities is not unilinear, nor is its outcome certain. As they plant their coral fragments, purchasers link them to existing religious and cultural practices and recreate corals as sites for altruism, memorialization, and divine communication. Restoration corals, in the hands of local amateur ecologists, become a way to simultaneously democratize knowledge of the sea and contest prevalent techno-scientific conservation approaches.

Author: Claus, A.C.
Year: 2017
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Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 11(2): 157-174. doi:10.1558/jsrnc.18804

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Coral Bleaching Futures

Coral Bleaching Futures – Downscaled Projections of Bleaching Conditions for the World’s Coral Reefs, Implications of Climate Policy and Management Responses

Increasingly frequent severe coral bleaching is among the greatest threats to coral reefs posed by climate change. Global climate models (GCMs) project great spatial variation in the timing of annual severe bleaching (ASB) conditions; a point at which reefs are certain to change and recovery will be limited. Previous model-resolution projections (approximately 1×1°) are too coarse to inform reef management planning (recognized, for example, in SAMOA Pathways, paragraph 44b). To meet the need for higher-resolution projections, this report presents statistically downscaled projections (4-km resolution) of the timing of ASB for all the world’s coral reefs using the newest generation of IPCC climate models (CMIP5). Results are reported by country and territory, grouped in bioregions based on the 10 UNEP Regional Seas programmes with coral reefs (also including countries or territories in or near the Regional Sea area but not participating in the Regional Sea).

Among the goals of the Paris Agreement adopted at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in 2015 is to hold temperature “well below” 2°C while also pursuing efforts to stay below 1.5°C. This legally binding agreement entered into force November 4, 2016. This report evaluates the implications of the Paris Agreement for coral reef futures. Projections of ASB timing are compared between business as usual scenario (RCP8.5) and RCP4.5, which could represent emissions concentrations mid-century. This report makes the projections data and main findings publicly accessible to inform management and policy planning as well as to support education and outreach. The data are currently being used to inform conservation planning in the U.S., including Florida and Hawaii, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Australia, and Malaysia.

Author: United Nations Environment Program
Year: 2017
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Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN: 978-92-807-3649-6

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A Guide to Assessing Coral Reef Resilience for Decision Support

Maintaining and restoring resilience is now a major focus of most coral reef managers around the world. A focus on resilience gives us options – and hope – in the face of new and often daunting challenges. Underpinning this is the fact that local actions can positively influence the future of coral reefs, despite powerful external forces like climate change.

As examples, coral recovery from disturbances in Bermuda and the Bahamas has been greater in recent decades than in other parts of the Caribbean. Differences in recovery rates in the Caribbean have been partially attributed to establishing and enforcing fishing regulations, especially on key herbivores such as parrotfish (Jackson et al. 2014).

Overall though, the application of resilience theory to management planning and the day-to-day business of coral reef management has been challenging. One of the key stumbling blocks has been the lack of a robust and easily implementable method for assessing coral reef resilience in a way that can inform marine spatial planning and help to prioritize the implementation of management strategies.

Our ability to assess relative resilience of coral reefs has advanced dramatically in recent years, and we are now at a point where a feasible and useful process can be recommended for use in environmental planning and management.

This Guide presents a 10-step process for completing a resilience assessment, putting into managers’ hands the means to assess, map and monitor coral reef resilience, and the means to identify and prioritize actions that support resilience in the face of climate change. The guidance presented here represents the culmination of over a decade of experience and builds on ideas first presented by West and Salm (2003), Obura and Grimsditch (2009), and McClanahan and coauthors (2012). The resilience assessment process described in the Guide has been applied by the author group in Australia, Florida, CNMI, Guam, Palau, Indonesia, the Cayman Islands, and US Virgin Islands and in many other reef locations by other groups.

This guide is first and foremost intended for the individuals in charge of commissioning, planning, leading or coordinating a resilience assessment. The Guide also provides a resource for ‘reef managers’ of all kinds, including decision-makers, environmental planners and managers in coral reef areas, with influence over pressures affecting coral reefs. Outreach coordinators and educators working in coral reef areas may also benefit from the Guide, and they can participate in parts of the resilience assessment process, but the Guide focuses on the needs of decision-makers and the scientists who support them.

Author: Maynard, J.A., P.A. Marshall, B. Parker, E. Mcleod, G. Ahmadia, R. van Hooidonk, S. Planes, G.J. Williams, L. Raymundo, R. Beeden, J. Tamelander
Year: 2017
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ISBN No: 978-92-807-3650-2

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Adaptation Design Tool Online Course Announcement

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Ready to get practical with adapting your management activities in light of climate change, but wondering how to organize what can be a complicated ‘adaptation design’ process? A new course, Corals & Climate Adaptation Planning: Adaptation Design Tool, can help you as a coral reef manager incorporate climate-smart design into your management activities.

This month-long mentored training (8-10 hour time commitment) features interactive lessons, hands-on exercises, webinars, and interaction with experts and other managers. Using real-world examples, you will be guided through the process of incorporating climate change adaptation into a management plan, first using existing planned actions as a starting point, and then through the development of additional climate-smart strategies as needed.

The lessons are based on the user guide, Adaptation Design Tool: Corals & Climate Adaptation Planning, which was developed as a collaborative project of the Climate Change Working Group of the interagency U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and The Nature Conservancy.

This course was designed for coral reef managers but is also fully transferable for use with other systems and applications, such as wetland and watershed management planning. Everyone is welcome!

Important Dates:

  • Course Dates: October 16 – November 17, 2017
  • September 25 – October 16: Course Orientation and Introductory Webinar registration
  • October 16: Course Orientation and Introductory Webinar – Introduction to the Adaptation Design Tool (1 hour)
  • October 17 – November 16: Complete four self-paced lessons and learning exercises (approximately 6 hours)
  • November 6: Webinar 2 – Developing Climate-Smart Design Considerations for Existing Conservation and Management Actions (1.5 hours)
  • November 17: Webinar 3 – Expanding the List of Adaptation Options & Course Conclusion (1 hour)


To Register:
The course will open with an orientation webinar held on October 16 at 10:00 AM HST / 4:00 PM ESTRegister here for the Orientation Webinar which will cover how to enroll in the course. If you are not able to take this mentored course, there is a self-study version available here (Note: you will need to create a user account to access the self-study course). If you have questions, please contact us at

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