Land clearing and ecosystem degradation are primary causes of loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services worldwide, putting at risk sustainable options for Earth and humankind. According to recent global estimates, degraded lands already account for at least 1 and up to 6 billion ha. Given high rates of habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes with high levels of ecosystem transformation, conventional approaches to conservation such as setting aside lands in protected areas, are not enough; in combination with ecosystem protection, ecological restoration is essential to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and delivery of ecosystem services. Despite recognition of the role of ecological restoration, the planning of restoration at the landscape scale remains a major challenge. Specifically, more studies are needed on developing restoration plans that maximize conservation and provisioning of ecosystem services, while minimizing competition with high-productivity land uses. We use Colombia, one of the world’s mega-diversity countries in which ca. 25 % of ecosystems are listed as critically endangered (CR), as a test case for exploring the potential advantages of including the Red List of Ecosystems, a newly developed tool for assessing conservation value, in restoration planning. We identified restoration priorities focused on both high-risk ecosystems and low-productivity lands, to maximize conservation value and minimize land-use conflicts. This approach allowed us to identify over 6 M ha of priority areas for restoration, targeting the restoration of 31 (75 %) of the country’s endangered ecosystems. Eight of the Regional Administrative Environmental Planning Areas (CARs) had greater than 20 % of their area identified as restoration priorities. We roughly estimated that the cost of restoring the prioritized areas with restoration through natural regeneration, using payment for ecosystem services (PES), would equal less than 50 % of the annual budget of the CARs. Our results are in sharp contrast (only 12 % agreement) with the priorities identified under the current National Restoration Strategy of Colombia, and highlight the potential contribution of the Red List of Ecosystems in refining and improving restoration planning strategies at both national and sub-national levels.
Historically, coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems (tidal marshes, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows) have been impacted and degraded by human intervention, mainly in the form of land acquisition. With increasing recognition of the role of blue carbon ecosystems in climate mitigation, protecting and rehabilitating these ecosystems becomes increasingly more important. This study evaluated the potential carbon gains from rehabilitating a degraded coastal tidal marsh site in south-eastern Australia. Tidal exchange at the study site had been restricted by the construction of earthen barriers for the purpose of reclaiming land for commercial salt production. Analysis of sediment cores (elemental carbon and 210Pb dating) revealed that the site had stopped accumulating carbon since it had been converted to salt ponds 65 years earlier. In contrast, nearby recovered (“control”) tidal marsh areas are still accumulating carbon at relatively high rates (0.54 tons C ha–1year–1). Using elevation and sea level rise (SLR) data, we estimated the potential future distribution of tidal marsh vegetation if the earthen barrier were removed and tidal exchange was restored to the degraded site. We estimated that the sediment-based carbon gains over the next 50 years after restoring this small site (360 ha) would be 9,000 tons C, which could offset the annual emissions of ∼7,000 passenger cars at present time (at 4.6 metric tons pa.) or ∼1,400 Australians. Overall, we recommend that this site is a promising prospect for rehabilitation based on the opportunity for blue carbon additionality, and that the business case for rehabilitation could be bolstered through valuation of other co-benefits, such as nitrogen removal, support to fisheries, sediment stabilization, and enhanced biodiversity.
Coastal and marine ecosystems characterized by foundation species, such as seagrass beds, coral reefs, salt marshes, oyster reefs, and mangrove forests, are rich in biodiversity and support a range of ecosystem services including coastal protection, food provisioning, water filtration, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, cultural value, among others. These ecosystems have experienced degradation and a net loss of total area in regions around the world due to a host of anthropogenic stressors, resulting in declines in the associated ecosystem services they provide. Because of the extensive degradation in many locations, increasing attention has turned to ecosystem restoration of these marine habitats. Restoration techniques for marine and coastal ecosystems are generally more expensive when compared to terrestrial ecosystems, highlighting the importance of carefully selecting locations that will provide the largest return on investment, not only for the probability and magnitude of restoration success, but also for ecosystem service outcomes. However, site selection and spatial planning for marine ecosystem restoration receive relatively little attention in the scientific literature, suggesting a need to better study how spatial planning tools could be incorporated into restoration practice. To the degree that site selection has been formally evaluated in the literature, the criteria have tended to focus more on environmental conditions beneficial for the restored habitat, and less on ecosystem service outcomes once the habitat is restored, which may vary considerably from site to site, or with more complex landscape dynamics and spatial patterns of connectivity. Here we (1) review recent (2015–2019) scientific peer-reviewed literature for several marine ecosystems (seagrass beds, salt marshes, and mangrove forests) to investigate how commonly site selection or spatial planning principles are applied or investigated in scholarly research about marine ecosystem restoration at different spatial scales, (2) provide a conceptual overview of the rationale for applying spatial planning principles to marine ecosystem restoration, and (3) highlight promising analytical approaches from the marine spatial planning and conservation planning literatures that could help improve restoration outcomes. We argue that strategic site selection and spatial planning for marine ecosystem restoration, particularly applied at larger spatial scales and accounting for ecosystem service outcomes, can help support more effective restoration.
Approaches toward habitat conservation and restoration often include supplementing or enhancing existing, degraded, or lost natural habitats. In aquatic environments, a popular approach toward habitat enhancement is the introduction of underwater human-made structures or artificial reefs. Despite the nearly global prevalence of artificial reefs deployed to enhance habitat, it remains debated whether these structures function similarly to comparable natural reefs. To help resolve this question, we conducted a literature review and accompanying meta-analysis of fish community metrics on artificial reefs within the coastal ocean and made comparisons with naturally-occurring reference reefs (rocky reefs and coral reefs). Our findings from a synthesis of 39 relevant studies revealed that, across reef ecosystems, artificial reefs support comparable levels of fish density, biomass, species richness, and diversity to natural reefs. Additional analyses demonstrated that nuances in these patterns were associated with the geographic setting (ocean basin, latitude zone) and artificial reef material. These findings suggest that, while artificial reefs can mimic natural reefs in terms of the fish assemblages they support, artificial reefs are not one-size-fits-all tools for habitat enhancement. Instead, artificial reefs should be considered strategically based on location-specific scientific assessments and resource needs to maximize benefits of habitat enhancement.
Rehabilitated and restored mangrove ecosystems have important ecological, economic, and social values for coastal communities. Although a sine qua non of successful mangrove rehabilitation or restoration projects is accurate attention to local hydrology and basic biology of mangrove trees and their associated fauna, their long-term success depends on far more axes, each with their own challenges. Rehabilitation projects: are planned, designed, executed, and managed by people with diverse backgrounds and different scientific and socio-political agendas; need to be responsive to these multiple stakeholders and agents who hold different values; are often influenced by laws and treaties spanning local to international scales; and must be able to adapt and evolve both geomorphologically and socioeconomically over decades-to-centuries in the context of a rapidly changing climate. We view these challenges as opportunities for innovative approaches to rehabilitation and restoration that engage new and larger constituencies. Restored mangrove ecosystems can be deliberately designed and engineered to provide valuable ecosystem services, be adaptable to climatic changes, and to develop platforms for educating nonspecialists about both the successes and failures of restored mangrove ecosystems. When mangrove rehabilitation or restoration projects are developed as experiments, they can be used as case-studies and more general models to inform policy- and decision-makers and guide future restoration efforts. Achieving this vision will require new investment and dedication to research and adaptive management practices. These ideas are illustrated with examples from mangrove restoration and rehabilitation projects in the Indo-West Pacific and Caribbean regions, the two hotspots of mangrove biodiversity and its ongoing loss and degradation.
Global habitat deterioration of marine ecosystems has led to a need for active interventions to halt or reverse the loss of ecological function. Restoration has historically been a key tool to reverse habitat loss and restore functions, but the extent to which this will be sufficient under future climates is uncertain. Emerging genetic technologies now provide the ability for restoration to proactively match adaptability of target species to predicted future environmental conditions, which opens up the possibility of boosting resistance to future stress in degraded and threatened habitats. As such, the choice of whether to restore to historical baselines or anticipate the future remains a key decision that will influence restoration success in the face of environmental and climate change. Here, we present an overview of the different motives for restoration – to recover or revive lost or degraded habitats to extant or historical states, or to reinforce or redefine for future conditions. We focus on the genetic and adaptive choices that underpin each option and subsequent consequences for restoration success. These options span a range of possible trajectories, technological advances and societal acceptability, and represent a framework for progressing restoration of marine habitat forming species into the future.
To understand the restoration potential of degraded habitats, it is important to know the key processes and habitat features that allow for recovery after disturbance. As part of the EU (Horizon 2020) funded MERCES project, a group of European experts compiled and assessed current knowledge, from both past and ongoing restoration efforts, within the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the North-East Atlantic Ocean. The aim was to provide an expert judgment of how different habitat features could impact restoration success and enhance the recovery of marine habitats. A set of biological and ecological features (i.e., life-history traits, population connectivity, spatial distribution, structural complexity, and the potential for regime shifts) were identified and scored according to their contribution to the successful accomplishment of habitat restoration for five habitats: seagrass meadows, kelp forests, Cystoseira macroalgal beds, coralligenous assemblages and cold-water coral habitats. The expert group concluded that most of the kelp forests features facilitate successful restoration, while the features for the coralligenous assemblages and the cold-water coral habitat did not promote successful restoration. For the other habitats the conclusions were much more variable. The lack of knowledge on the relationship between acting pressures and resulting changes in the ecological state of habitats is a major challenge for implementing restoration actions. This paper provides an overview of essential features that can affect restoration success in marine habitats of key importance for valuable ecosystem services.
Kelp forests are in decline globally and large-scale intervention could be required to halt the loss of these valuable ecosystems. To date kelp forest restoration has had limited success and been expensive and unable to address the increasing scale of ecosystem deterioration. Here we developed and tested a new approach: “green gravel”. Small rocks were seeded with kelp and reared in the laboratory until 2–3 cm, before out-planting to the field. The out-planted kelp had high survival and growth over 9 months, even when dropped from the surface. This technique is cheap, simple, and does not require scuba diving or highly trained field workers. It can be up-scaled to treat large areas or even used to introduce genes from more resilient kelp populations onto vulnerable reefs. Green gravel thus overcomes some of the current major limitations of kelp restoration and provides a promising new defense against kelp forest decline.
Coastal zones are among the most economically productive areas of the world. However, they are also among the most vulnerable regions to disasters triggered by natural hazards. Recent recognition of the role of healthy coastal and marine ecosystems for reducing vulnerability in coastal communities has led to the design of coastal management strategies that incorporate direct investments in these ecosystems. However, there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the economic benefits of coastal and marine ecosystems for society, which has led to the degradation of these ecosystems and hindered the prospects of sustainable investments in coastal resilience projects, including green infrastructure.
In this paper, we analyze the economic importance and ongoing threats of the main marine and coastal ecosystems of the Wider Caribbean region, and identify the underlying economic causes of their deterioration. The need to improve coastal resilience in the Wider Caribbean has led to innovative approaches for the protection of coastal zones and their population from erosion and flood risk, prioritizing the role of marine and coastal ecosystems for coastal protection and vulnerability reduction in coastal communities.
Based on this review, we develop an analytical framework for economic analyses and impact evaluations of coastal restoration and protection programs, with the objective of allowing practitioners to properly identify the cost-effectiveness of nature-based solutions for coastal resilience.
Coral reef ecosystems have suffered an unprecedented loss of habitat-forming hard corals in recent decades. While marine conservation has historically focused on passive habitat protection, demand for and interest in active restoration has been growing in recent decades. However, a disconnect between coral restoration practitioners, coral reef managers and scientists has resulted in a disjointed field where it is difficult to gain an overview of existing knowledge. To address this, we aimed to synthesise the available knowledge in a comprehensive global review of coral restoration methods, incorporating data from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, complemented with grey literature and through a survey of coral restoration practitioners. We found that coral restoration case studies are dominated by short-term projects, with 60% of all projects reporting less than 18 months of monitoring of the restored sites. Similarly, most projects are relatively small in spatial scale, with a median size of restored area of 100 m2. A diverse range of species are represented in the dataset, with 229 different species from 72 coral genera. Overall, coral restoration projects focused primarily on fast-growing branching corals (59% of studies), and report survival between 60 and 70%. To date, the relatively young field of coral restoration has been plagued by similar ‘growing pains’ as ecological restoration in other ecosystems. These include 1) a lack of clear and achievable objectives, 2) a lack of appropriate and standardised monitoring and reporting and, 3) poorly designed projects in relation to stated objectives. Mitigating these will be crucial to successfully scale up projects, and to retain public trust in restoration as a tool for resilience based management. Finally, while it is clear that practitioners have developed effective methods to successfully grow corals at small scales, it is critical not to view restoration as a replacement for meaningful action on climate change.