Hope is found at the bottom of the ocean.

Reefer Madness

A dead coral reef, destroyed years ago by fishermen, has been brought back to life after scientists installed specially-made steel frames into the sea floor and coaxed transplanted coral to grow and flourish on these metallic skeletons.

The scientists were able to restore the coral reef in just four years, which points to the wonderful possibility that coral reefs, facing death and destruction from climate change and manmade trouble, can be restored even after catastrophic damage.

The team of scientists from Indonesia and the United Kingdom detailed the findings of their project, located off the coast of Indonesia in the South Sulawesi province, in a new paper published in the journal Current Biology. The study was performed at the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Program, a large scale effort to restore reefs destroyed by fishermen who used explosives to kill and capture fish from 30 to 40 years ago.

The researchers took "reef stars," which are locally-fabricated hexagonal structures made of steel and coated with sand, and placed them in strategic areas of once-barren sea floor. They used a network of these metal structures to trap and stabilize floating dead coral rubble leftover from blast fishing, and transplanted live coral to these steel skeletons. In this way, floating rubble won't harm live coral and the coral have a sturdy foothold for growth.

"[R]estoration sites are indistinguishable from proximal healthy reefs in all investigated parameters," the scientists write.

Bandaid Solution

But while these restored coral reefs have the same growth and vigor as mature, healthy coral reefs that haven't been disturbed, they're still different in some ways from naturally grown reefs, the scientists explain.

Fast-growing coral species dominate these restored reefs, for instance, compared to natural healthy reefs that have more diversity.

"When any ecosystem recovers from damage, whether it is recovering naturally or because of some man-made artificial restoration processes, the first years always look different from what the end result would be," England's Lancaster University marine biologist Timothy Lamont told Ars Technica.

Still, the success of this project suggests that we can make reefs more resilient for a warmer future that seems poised to wipe out the great majority of coral in the next several decades.

More on coral reefs: New Research: All Coral Reefs May Be Completely Dead by 2100

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