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The need for broader ecological and socioeconomic tools to evaluate the effectiveness of coral restoration programs

Hein, Margaux Y., Willis, Bette L., Beeden, Roger, Birtles, Alastair
Restoration ecology 2017 v.25 no.6 pp. 873-883
coral reefs, corals, ecological restoration, ecosystem services, environmental factors, governance, sustainable communities
Coral reef restoration initiatives are burgeoning in response to the need for novel management strategies to address dramatic global declines in coral cover. However, coral restoration programs typically lack rigor and critical evaluation of their effectiveness. A review of 83 peer‐reviewed papers that used coral transplantation for reef restoration reveals that growth and survival of coral fragments were the most widely used indicators of restoration success, with 88% of studies using these two indicators either solely (55%) or in combination with a limited number of other ecological factors (33%). In 53% of studies, reef condition was monitored for 1 year or less, while only 5% of reefs were monitored for more than 5 years post‐transplantation. These results highlight that coral reef restoration science has focused primarily on short‐term experiments to evaluate the feasibility of techniques for ecological restoration and the initial establishment phase post‐transplantation, rather than on longer‐term outcomes for coral reef communities. Here, we outline 10 socioecological indicators that comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of coral reef restoration across the four pillars of sustainability (i.e. environmental, sociocultural, governance, and economic contributions to sustainable communities). We recommend that evaluations of the effectiveness of coral restoration programs integrate ecological indicators with sociocultural, economic, and governance considerations. Assessing the efficacy of coral restoration as a tool to support reef resilience will help to guide future efforts and ensure the sustainable maintenance of reef ecosystem goods and services.