coral restoration

In the current fracturing state of our natural world, the three different approaches to defending Earth’s ecosystems include preservation, conservation, and restoration. While they all have the common goal of sustaining Earth’s diverse and natural beauty, their methodologies differ. For instance, preservation defends what is left of the wild world, conservation prevents future damage to what currently exists, and restoration rebuilds what has been broken. All of these are incredibly necessary, but the one that is the most heart-wrenching is restoration. 

Restoration projects all over the globe are proof that we are living amidst damaged ecosystems. As a result, this type of work is not for the weary or the doubtful. Restorators are Mother Nature’s warriors, not afraid to salvage what is crumbling before their eyes. Instead of weeping at what the fire has burned, restorators are the ones running into the flames of human-induced destruction with a bucket of water. While much has been burned and lost, restorators choose to look at what is left and what has survived against the odds. The same holds true with coral restoration work. Since the 1950s, studies have found that 50% of global coral reef coverage has been lost. Yet hundreds of coral restoration campaigns dispersed throughout the oceans worldwide show the persistence of the human spirit to defend and rebuild what we hold dear.  

coral polyp

This optimism that restorators cling to is the foundation of the work itself, understanding that “every drop in the ocean counts”- Yoko Ono. While this work is oftentimes slow and tedious, the successes deserve recognition, for they are the drops filling up the ocean. Diving in Manuel Antonio with Marine Conservation Costa Rica’s coral restoration internship one gets to witness the coral rehabilitation process from the ground up. Corals are harvested and propagated on plugs where they are given time and space to grow in the nurseries. Here they undergo nurturing care, weekly cleanings with toothbrushes, and continuous assessment of their health. After they have proven themselves to be hearty and healthy sprouts, the corals are ready to be planted in the wild. This aspect is arguably the most fulfilling part of coral restoration work– having the opportunity to cultivate young and hopeful corals back into the environments that desperately rely on them. 

 The work of a coral gardener is this constant dualism– swimming through ecosystems of  chalky, gray corals while planting new plugs full of life, color, and promise. 

coral restoration work

This optimism that restorators cling to is the foundation of the work itself, understanding that “every drop in the ocean counts”- Yoko Ono. While this work is oftentimes slow and tedious, the successes deserve recognition, for they are the drops filling up the ocean. Diving in Manuel Antonio with Marine Conservation Costa Rica’s coral restoration internship one gets to witness the coral rehabilitation process from the ground up. Corals are harvested and propagated on plugs where they are given time and space to grow in the nurseries. Here they undergo nurturing care, weekly cleanings with toothbrushes, and continuous assessment of their health. After they have proven themselves to be hearty and healthy sprouts, the corals are ready to be planted in the wild. This aspect is arguably the most fulfilling part of coral restoration work– having the opportunity to cultivate young and hopeful corals back into the environments that desperately rely on them. 

 The work of a coral gardener is this constant dualism– swimming through ecosystems of  chalky, gray corals while planting new plugs full of life, color, and promise. 

Although restoring what is broken can be disheartening at times, the hope of a future filled with vibrant, flourishing corals for succeeding generations to relish in outweighs the gloom. Herein lies what it takes to be a restoration warrior, in a world that desperately needs restoring.

Because restoration efforts are consistently bombarded with threats and casualties to what they attempting to protect, it is important to maintain a hopeful mindset. As restoration workers, one must understand and balance the duality of our dying yet adaptive world. In the world of scuba diving, the health of the coral reef ecosystems is noticeable with every dive. On one hand, there is abundant life and miraculous creatures thriving under the sea, while on the other hand there are countless signs warning of irreversible destruction and sickly coral reefs.

The more one learns about coral reefs, what threatens them, and what a diseased coral looks like the harder it is to disregard these truths– hence exposing the burden of knowledge. It is impossible not to notice the pink pimples and white scarring revealing the stress the reefs are enduring. As a diver you also witness firsthand the bleached, decaying corals, and grasping the full weight of these hard truths only adds to the pressure already felt underwater. In order to sustain the hope that keeps restorators moving, making space for the realities of resilience and fatality is a practice that all of us can learn as we cope with the current warming state of our one and only planet.    

outplanting corals

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