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Regenerating marine ecosystems

by Louise-Océane Delion, marine biologist and scientific content creator for Koraï


Introduction

In previous articles, we have introduced you to the main marine ecosystems of Africa (and the world): mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs. We explained what they are and their importance for biodiversity, climate, coastal populations and human beings in general. We invite you to (re)read those articles to understand the basics and what follows in this new article.

Despite the vital role that mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs play for our planet and the majority of its inhabitants (human and non-human), these ecosystems are extremely threatened by anthropogenic activities: urbanisation, overexploitation of resources, physical destruction, pollution, climate change...

Globally, around 29% of seagrass beds1, 35% of mangrove forests2 and 50% of coral reefs3 have disappeared over the last century. This decline has serious consequences both for the incredible biodiversity that lives there and for the coastal populations that depend on them. Their degradation also leads - in the case of mangroves and seagrass beds - to the release of carbon into the atmosphere, in the form of CO2, further exacerbating climate change.

The emergency is in front of us. Taking action to reverse the global loss of marine ecosystems is necessary, urgent and inevitable.

It is obvious that we must protect and conserve these ecosystems... at least those that persist. It is also relevant to ask what should be done about ecosystems that are already damaged or have disappeared altogether: what is the point of 'protecting' or 'conserving' a living world that is damaged?

We need to transcend the notions of protection and conservation of life and move on to the notion of regeneration. To regenerate is to go further than just protecting what is: it is to bring back to life what has been damaged.

Koraï was born from this precise desire: to bring back to life the African marine ecosystems that are suffering today from human activities. In this article, find out more about the concept of "regeneration", the factors that need to be taken into account to succeed and the hope for the future that comes with it.

Understanding regeneration



What do we mean by 'regeneration'? Actually, regeneration can also be replaced by restoration, and even more precisely by ecological restoration.


According to the Society for Ecological Restoration, regeneration/restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed4.


There are different forms of regeneration:

  • ‘Passive’ regeneration, which is letting the regeneration process take place by itself, without human intervention, after the source of disturbance/damage has been removed, and

  • ‘Active’ regeneration, which is the introduction of human techniques and manipulations to help the ecosystem to recover


Yes to regenerating, but to what end?

Unlike conventional thinking, wanting an ecosystem to recover does not necessarily mean that the ecosystem should return to exactly the same state as it was before it was damaged. It is very difficult to know when an ecosystem is considered to be in a "good" state because life is constantly moving and an ecosystem is constantly changing and modifying.

The objective of regeneration should rather be to enable an ecosystem to become healthy, resilient and functional again. That is, to help it become rich in life again with many species and large populations of individuals, to return to an efficient rhythm at which it contributes to natural fluxes (oxygen production, carbon storage, nutrient recycling, etc.) and to recover naturally and easily from external pressures (disease, climatic events, etc.).


Putting the odds in our favour

In order to ensure the success of any ecosystem regeneration project, there are many considerations to take into account. Regenerating an ecosystem is not a quick fix, but if done with sufficient planning, methods and resources (human and financial), the results can be tremendous.

Before starting any regeneration intervention (e.g. replanting a mangrove, or transplanting a piece of coral), it is important to understand what is causing the ecosystem to disappear in the first place and to ensure that this threat is limited. Because trying to trigger the regeneration process of an ecosystem by continuing what is destroying it in the first place would be like trying to empty a bathtub with a bucket while the tap is still running...

Another key requirement for successful ecosystem regeneration is the involvement of local communities: it is necessary that the people for whom this ecosystem is part of their local environment and who depend on it can feel responsible and included in the process. It is by taking ownership of their environment and engaging as an integral part of the ecosystem that the best results will be obtained.

The success of ecosystem regeneration also depends on financial resources. These must be sufficient to allow the implementation of regeneration actions and their monitoring, especially for a large-scale impact. This is also what Koraï is working on, by allowing companies and other investors to allocate their funds to high-impact projects aimed at regenerating marine ecosystems in Africa.


Some hope for coastal ecosystems

The regeneration of marine ecosystems works. There are many examples around the world that prove this every day. Despite a somewhat gloomy situation at first glance, there are solutions that are bearing fruit, and offer hope for the future.

While marine ecosystem regeneration projects have been developing all over the world for many years, the number of projects in Africa is still relatively small.

However, with the extent of mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs along the African coast (117,000km2)4, it seems urgent to act and regenerate those that have been damaged and destroyed.


For example, coral reefs cover more than 17,500 km2 in Africa, from which 12,000 km2 are found in the South-East of the continent, in the Indian Ocean6 : in Madagascar, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania… All of the coral reefs in this region are at high risk of collapse within 50 years if we do not act now6.


This is why Koraï is aiming to regenerate African marine ecosystems by starting in Madagascar with the restoration of coral reefs.


What if we could achieve this mission together?



References

1 Waycott, M., Duarte, C. M., Carruthers, T. J., Orth, R. J., Dennison, W. C., Olyarnik, S., ... & Williams, S. L. (2009). Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, 106(30), 12377-12381.

2Romañach, S. S., DeAngelis, D. L., Koh, H. L., Li, Y., Teh, S. Y., Barizan, R. S. R., & Zhai, L. (2018). Conservation and restoration of mangroves: Global status, perspectives, and prognosis. Ocean & Coastal Management, 154, 72-82.

3Eddy, T. D., Lam, V. W., Reygondeau, G., Cisneros-Montemayor, A. M., Greer, K., Palomares, M. L. D., ... & Cheung, W. W. (2021). Global decline in capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services. One Earth, 4(9), 1278-1285.


5Tregarot, E., Touron-Gardic, Gré., Cornet, C.C., Failler, P., Valuation of coastal ecosystem services in the Large Marine Ecosystems of Africa, Environmental Development (2020), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envdev.2020.100584


6OBURA, David, GUDKA, Mishal, SAMOILYS, Melita, et al. Vulnerability to collapse of coral reef ecosystems in the Western Indian Ocean. Nature Sustainability, 2022, vol. 5, no 2, p. 104-113.


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