THUWAL — Coral reefs are critical to the health of the world’s oceans and the millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. Yet corals around the world are being dramatically impacted by warming ocean temperatures and related environmental stressors.
As a result, collaborative strategies are needed to boost resiliency and prevent decline.
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Reefscape Restoration Initiative (KRRI) is embarking on a pioneering effort to conserve, enhance and restore 100 hectares of coral reefscape in the Red Sea.
Utilizing state-of-the-art ocean-based and land-based nursery facilities and innovative technologies for site mapping, coral production, out-planting and monitoring, the initiative intends to deliver the world’s largest coral reef restoration, enhancement and conservation endeavor.
After months of detailed planning and baseline assessments, work towards our ambitious goals is well and truly under way. In March of 2023, KRRI launched its on-the-reef restoration work at Shushah, an island of the coast of NEOM, to test and evaluate various coral propagation techniques for expanding production.
In the first month, KRRI propagated nearly 5,000 corals from a dozen important species, fulfilling nearly half of its 2023 annual target. To maximize productivity, the initiative examined seven distinct coral propagation techniques and five different coral nursery designs.
At its peak, the initiative anticipates producing half a million corals per year to rebuild and sustain diverse reef habitats.
May 5 marked another milestone for the project, when the team recorded the first-ever mass synchronized coral spawning in the region, including a dozen different species.
With numerous corals spawning just once a year and timings previously unknown for the region, it provided KRRI an opportunity to obtain critical information.
The data will inform the project’s efforts to effectively harvest and cultivate the vast amount of coral material produced during spawning events to increase the scale of reef restoration.
The major focus of the land based nursery will be to improve the survival of juvenile corals taken during spawning, as well as mass production of coral micro-fragments, which result in rapid coral tissue growth.
KRRI Project Director Tom Moore said, “The deployment of ocean based nurseries, harvesting of corals and propagation of corals during the trial phase, along with determination of timeframe of coral spawning activity in the northern Red Sea, demonstrates the capability and commitment for the full-scale implementation of the project at Shushah and beyond.”
The KAUST initiative aligns with the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to transform its economy and society by promoting sustainable development and preserving natural resources.
By restoring these vital ecosystems, KRRI is helping to protect marine biodiversity and promote sustainable economic growth.
It also demonstrates the commitment of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 14, which emphasizes the importance of protecting and sustainably using oceans, seas and marine resources.
The initiative is a multi-disciplinary effort that involves scientists, engineers, decision-makers and local communities. This approach recognizes that complex environmental challenges require collaborative solutions.
The initiative also leverages the latest advances in science, technology and innovation to develop effective restoration strategies that can be scaled up and replicated elsewhere.
By serving as a model for other nations and organizations, KRRI represents a pioneering and innovative approach to coral restoration and conservation, providing a model for the rest of the world to follow.
KRRI Head of Strategy and Operations Jerry Thomas said, “The dedication, passion and commitment of the team involved is the key driver that will help us achieve the ambitious goal of restoring 100 Hectares of reefscape adjacent to Shushah and potentially beyond.”