coral bed

Prioritizing Coral Restoration Sites 

by Luke McEachron and Kate Wirth 

Restoration efforts are necessary to aid coral reef survival and resilience. To this end, performing coral restoration research and filling information gaps are the Legacy Initiative’s primary marine goals for the next four years. A team of internal and external experts established research into and identification of potentially more resilient areas of coral reef habitat as a priority need in addressing coral reef restoration.

Over the past year and a half, IS&M research scientists have worked with non-profit, academic, federal, and state partners in south Florida to define reef resiliency, identify restoration sites and to gather expert advice on restoration for listed coral species. We quickly learned that coral restoration means many different things to different people. For example, restoration can mean outplanting acroporid corals originating from a nursery or simply protecting species-rich reefs from harmful activities. Despite the disagreement over definitions, there is somewhat close agreement between scientists on the environmental conditions associated with coral reef decline and improvement.

diagram of workflow
Click on diagram to view larger image

To accommodate the best available science on coral survival and different definitions of restoration, we decided to create a dynamic mapping tool that allows users to prioritize restoration sites for multiple user defined restoration activities. The tool is based on the Zonation conservation prioritization software, but incorporates several layers of statistical models built in R that incorporate the best available science on coral survival and distribution (i.e., literature information, stakeholder databases, in situ databases, etc.). For example, sea bottom temperature models feed into Acropora cervicornis distribution models, which in turn can overlap with an anthropogenic stress model in Zonation if a user is interested in examining the spatial relationships between Acropora cervicornis occurrence and anthropogenic stress. There are countless more sub-model combinations that allow users to explore different restoration scenarios. We are currently in the process of validating all of the sub-models that feed into the site prioritization model, but we expect the tool will be fully implemented by the end of June this year.