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Coral transplantation: A useful management tool or misguided meddling?

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Alasdair Edwards, Susan Clark


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The primary objectives of coral transplantation are to improve reef 'quality' in terms of live coral cover, biodiversity and topographic complexity. Stated reasons for transplanting corals have been to: (1) accelerate reef recovery after ship groundings, (2) replace corals killed by sewage, thermal effluents or other pollutants, (3) save coral communities or locally rare species threatened by pollution, land reclamation or pier construction, (4) accelerate recovery of reefs after damage by Crown-of-thorns starfish or red tides, (5) aid recovery of reefs following dynamite fishing or coral quarrying, (6) mitigate damage caused by tourists engaged in water-based recreational activities, and (7) enhance the attractiveness of underwater habitat in tourism areas. Whether coral transplantation is likely to be effective from a biological standpoint depends on, among other factors, the water quality, exposure, and degree of substrate consolidation of the receiving area. Whether it is necessary (apart from cases related to reason 3 above), depends primarily on whether the receiving area is failing to recruit naturally. The potential benefits and dis-benefits of coral transplantation are examined in the light of the results of research on both coral transplantation and recruitment with particular reference to a 4.5 year study in the Maldives. We suggest that in general, unless receiving areas are failing to recruit juvenile corals, natural recovery processes are likely to be sufficient in the medium to long term and that transplantation should be viewed as a tool of last resort. We argue that there has been too much focus on transplanting fast-growing branching corals, which in general naturally recruit well but tend to survive transplantation and re-location relatively poorly, to create short-term increases in live coral cover, at the expense of slow-growing massive corals, which generally survive transplantation well but often recruit slowly. In those cases where transplantation is justified, we advocate that a reversed stance, which focuses on early addition of slowly recruiting massive species to the recovering community, rather than a short-term and sometimes short-lived increase in coral cover, may be more appropriate in many cases.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Edwards AJ; Clark S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Marine Pollution Bulletin

Year: 1999

Volume: 37

Issue: 8-12

Pages: 474-487

Print publication date: 01/12/1999

ISSN (print): 0025-326X

ISSN (electronic): 1879-3363

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/S0025-326X(99)00145-9


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