Published On: 18 January 2021

Photo by CRIB

This year sees the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development – a new report on coral reef restoration kick starts both.

Coral reefs are some of the most ecologically and economically valuable ecosystems on our planet. Covering less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s ocean, they support over 25 per cent of marine biodiversity and serve at least a billion people with a wide range of ecosystem services such as coastal protection, fisheries production, sources of medicine, recreational benefits, and tourism revenues.

However, they are also on the frontline of the climate crisis due to their sensitivity to warming seas. As much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost. According to recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C.

We can’t afford to lose this valuable ecosystem. As we strive to accelerate climate action to halt global warming, there is great urgency to protect our remaining reefs. How to do this is the subject of a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), which concludes that well-planned, well-funded and long-term coral reef restoration can be a useful tool to support coral reef resilience.

The report entitled Coral reef restoration as a strategy to improve ecosystem services aims to assist practitioners, managers, and decision-makers to consider whether and how to use coral reef restoration as a strategy to protect coral reefs locally, regionally and globally.

“Given the limited spatial scale, high costs, and limited evidence for long-term, ecologically relevant success, the necessity of applying coral reef restoration should be carefully thought through. If implemented, it should be integrated within an overarching reef resilience-based management framework,” says the report, which also notes that there has been considerable investment in research and development of coral reef restoration to improve cost, efficiency and scalability.

“This report provides a useful and innovative guideline for experts as we kick off the decades of Ocean Science and Ecosystem Restoration,” says Leticia Carvalho, head of UNEP’s Marine and Freshwater Branch.

“But it also clearly shows that nothing can take the place of a quick transformation to better stewardship of the natural systems that have been formed over billions of years on our finely tuned planet. Though critical interventions, recreating and restoring will always be more expensive and more complicated than maintaining, so we must do it wisely.”


There’s a growing sense that action to protect corals needs to happen fast.

A November 2020 UNEP report, Projections of Future Coral Bleaching Conditions Using IPCC CMIP6 Models, says coral bleaching is happening faster than anticipated and the future health of the world’s reefs is inextricably tied to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


“Coral reef restoration faces challenges associated with the relative novelty of the field and the sense of urgency for its applicability,” says the report’s lead author, Margaux Hein.

However, she points out that this sense of urgency is creating positive energy towards local and global collaborations to improve the efficacy of coral reef restoration. “Coral reef restoration is not a stand-alone fix, but it is potentially a very useful tool to complement resilience-based management strategies,” she says.

Ecosystem restoration efforts need to be planned and funded as long-term strategies over at least 10 to 20 years and require “climate-smart” designs that account for future uncertainties and changes.

The report suggests coral reef restoration strategies follow four critical principles: 1) planning and assessing around specific goals and objectives, 2) identifying adaptive strategies to mitigate risks, 3) engaging local stakeholders and communities in all stages of the restoration efforts, and 4) developing long-term monitoring plans to allow for adaptive management and to improve the understanding of restoration effectiveness for specific goals.

“Coral reef restoration is complex,” says Francis Staub, the coordinator of ICRI. “It’s far more complicated than planting corals. You have to take into consideration socioeconomic aspects in the different stages of restoration, cost-effectiveness and scalability, as well as targets to include in commitments made to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

“Policy, plans, and funding specific to coral reef restoration are needed to assist implementation at global, regional, and local scales,” he adds.

In 2019, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted Resolution 4/13 requesting UNEP and ICRI to define best practices for coral restoration for the maintenance of ecosystem services. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), provide opportunities to highlight the work already under way and set out a path of future actions.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Learn more.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)proclaimed in December 2017, will provide a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the oceans and more particularly to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For more information, please contact Gabriel Grimsditch: or Lisa Rolls:


Source: United Nations Environment Programme

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