coral restoration

Clusters of outplanted staghorn coral lines the reef ledge on Pickles Reef, Florida Keys.
A staghorn coral colony spawns, releasing white packets of sperm and eggs into the water column.

Coral Restoration with Sabine Bailey

We are going to take a mental excursion to the shallow seas of the Florida Keys with my guest Sabine Bailey. Her organization, the Coral Restoration Foundation, is the largest worldwide environmental group dedicated to the restoration of coral reefs and has one of the largest marine nurseries to grow corals for this purpose. Their base in Key Largo is situated on the southern end of the Florida Reef Tract, which is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world.

Sabine and I met in person just before the New Year to chat in the community room at Victrola Coffee in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Sabine graduated from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Growing up in Vietnam, she had the opportunity to travel to multiple reefs in Asia and got her Junior Open Water certification at just 10 years old! Since then, Sabine has performed fish population abundance surveys for a Shark Conservation Project in Fiji, interned at an environmental consulting firm, worked in an aquatic invasive species lab, and attained her Rescue Diver certification.

Sabine studied abroad in Brisbane, Australia. There she took a marine field course studying the state of corals at the Heron Island Research Station in the Great Barrier Reef and was devastated to see its progressive state of decline. This sparked a little blue flame in her for coral reef restoration work.

Jumping into the wayback machine, coral reef ecosystems precede dinosaurs. Zoom back to today - they are arguably the most hotspottiest of hotspots for ocean biodiversity. They cover less than 1% of the world’s oceans and contain 25% of all marine life. And they provide countless services and economic benefits to local communities – something at least like $8.5 bil annually to the state of Florida while supporting 71k jobs. Then, scaling up -- half a billion people worldwide rely on coral reefs for their livelihoods and food sources.

Now you probably understand the importance of corals generally. All the nature documentaries cover the complex ecology of coral reefs, their importance for overall well-being of our oceans as well as global environmental changes that are leading to their demise. However, so many of us aren’t familiar with anything related to their restoration. Me included. I was amazed to hear about the various methods that are used, the public awareness campaigns and ultimately the optimism associated with coral conservation, building reef resilience and growing future healthy coral reefs for the future.

This episode introduces restoration technology as an important component of reef conservation and explains how global threats and local stressors affect these keystone organisms and the marine communities they support. The good news is that corals can make a rebound when stressors are removed and many corals reefs have legal protections as marine sanctuaries. Importantly, the coral restoration community is making humongous strides to cultivate corals on land as well as in open water. You’ll hear about these cool structures they use called “coral trees,” which are open water baby coral nurseries where they stay before being introduced back into our shallow seas. Coral Restoration Foundation alone in 2019 delivered over 32,000 corals to the wild, restoring 3000 square meters of coral over 10 outplanting sites. Last year this took them over 8000 hours underwater. They are now working over 52 football fields sized areas of coral reef. Excited yet?

Through my conversation with Sabine, you’ll discover:

  • What it takes to become involved with coral restoration. Hint: it involves a lot of swimming, for most, along with some SCUBA diving certifications

  • What coral reef life looks like underwater and how corals provide structure and a foundation that nurtures species diversity in the ocean, resilience on our coasts and human livelihoods

  • Techniques used for cultivating corals that are genetically diverse and the methods for re-introducing them into the reefs

  • Systems for monitoring coral health and technology utilized to visualize restoration efforts back on land and, some news on large-scale coral restoration, specially how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is about to invest $97 million into the Keys Reefs and how that money will be spent in part on restoration


Find out more about coral reef restoration and the Coral Restoration Foundation by heading to Also keep up with the restoration action on Facebook and Instagram.

Everyone on earth depends directly or indirectly on the ocean. Using nature-based approaches will enhance climate resilience of ecosystems and the built environment in the coming climate transitions.

The world is warming and the ocean is absorbing much of this heat. General warming and marine heatwaves can have a devastating effect on corals and other marine ecosystems. Human-driven temperature increases are very likely to have caused 86% of the marine heatwaves between 2006 and 2015.

The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere last year was close to 410 parts per million — concentrations that have not occurred for the last 800,000 years. The global ocean has also absorbed a large portion (20–30%) of the human-caused CO2 emissions since the 1980s, causing ocean acidification. By the end of the century under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, marine heatwaves could occur 50 times more frequently globally and be ten times more intense than they were historically (1850–1900).

Coastal waters are warming and acidifying. Please consider advocating at various levels for policies that protect corals and funding for coral restoration – this includes efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. We are trending towards 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming with past and present greenhouse gas emission trajectories. That much heat in the world and increasing acidification of the marine environment means we lose much, if not the complete decline of our coral ecosystems.


IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N. Weyer (eds.)].

Roop, H.A., G.S. Mauger, H. Morgan, A.K. Snover, and M. Krosby, 2020. “Shifting Snowlines and Shorelines: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere and Implications for Washington State.” Briefing paper prepared by the Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle.

Photos courtesy of the Coral Restoration Foundation