Identifying coastal bright spots are helping scientists deliver successful marine restoration. Image: The Nature Conservancy.
What’s a marine ‘bright spot’?
Marine bright spots are areas where scientists have achieved the successful restoration of marine ecosystems. These environments have suffered damage from threats such as coastal development, overfishing or pollution.
Our latest research has identified coastal and marine bright spots globally. This paves the way for future interventions to boost biodiversity, local economies and human wellbeing.
Bright spots from the past, for the future
Science shows we can achieve coastal restoration efforts over large areas, deliver positive impacts for decades, expand restored areas by up to 10-times in size and generate jobs. And this is important. Coastal ecosystems across the globe include areas of saltmarshes, mangroves, seagrasses, oyster reefs, kelp beds and coral reefs. These ecosystems have declined by up to 85 per cent over the decades.
Bright spots identify successful conservation approaches that have worked in the past for coastal and marine systems. We can therefore apply this knowledge to help save marine areas that are struggling to recover from degradation.
Growing innovative ideas: using coral spawning to help restore the Great Barrier Reef is one example of marine restoration.
Coastal success stories
The research highlights a range of successful techniques for marine restoration. These bright spots have resulted in significant restoration of coastal ecosystems, both here and around the world.
In Australia, an innovative example of marine restoration is pioneering research to harvest coral spawn in the Great Barrier Reef to boost large-scale coral restoration efforts.
In the USA and the Netherlands, simple changes to how researchers planted saltmarshes resulted in doubled survivorship and biomass.
Additionally in the USA, scientists have developed new techniques to propagate and disperse seagrass seeds. Seagrass meadows have therefore recovered in areas where they were lost many decades ago. As a result, the seagrass removed an estimated 170 tonnes of nitrogen and 630 tonnes of carbon per year from the atmosphere.
In some countries such as South Korea, restoration of kelp forests and oyster reefs have improved commercial and recreational fishing. This consequently boosted the local economy. In another study, researchers helped recover reefs impacted by blast fishing in Indonesia. It occurred by placing rocks or other hard structures underwater to help with coral colonisation. As a result, scientists recorded a persistent growth of coral over more than 14 years!
Areas of seagrass, kelp and mangroves have significantly declined over the last few decades. Marine bright spots can help figure out what restoration methods work best.
Creating a bright future for marine ecosystems
Marine bright spots give us the window to understand what restoration methods work best. That way we can identify where to focus research efforts and investment to protect people’s livelihoods.
At least 775 million people have a high dependence on coastal marine ecosystems. Investing in coastal restoration creates jobs and can be used as a strategy to boost economic recovery and coastal marine health.
Coastal ecosystems also help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to protect and stabilise shorelines. Coastal marine restoration is an important nature-based solution to help address the impacts of climate change and how our coastal ecosystems can adapt.
It’s also a vital method to respond to other threats such as coastal development, land use change and overfishing.
Ultimately, marine restoration is likely to advance rapidly over the coming decades. It will therefore become a common intervention strategy that can reverse marine degradation.
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.