Fish of all types depend on coral reefs for survival. Not only do coral reefs provide shelter and a place to hide from predators, but they also harbor different kinds of food that many fish like to snack on.
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Sadly, as important as the ocean’s coral reefs are to a wholesome fish community, contemporary issues like climate change and ocean pollution endanger their very existence. Bleaching and high mortality rates travel down the environmental chain underneath the ocean’s surface, influencing fish communities and more in their wake.
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One way conservationists combat these issues is with coral reef restoration efforts, which involve transplanting corals grown in remote underwater nurseries to replace those that have fallen. On paper, it sounds like a stellar idea. On the other hand, there hasn’t been any hard evidence to suggest that these efforts impact the environment in positive ways; until now.
Harvard University’s Annie Opel set out to discern once and for all whether coral restoration efforts have a positive impact on ocean life. The results from the novel study are now published in the journal Marine Biology.
Opel and her team spent time studying known coral restoration effort sites and out-planting experimental coral transplant patches of their own. Within as little as one week, the team noticed a broader and more diverse fish community in and around the transplanted corals than before the efforts took place.
"Overall, it's a success story - we out-planted corals and there were more fish," Opel said while commenting on her study.
"That's really exciting, and something people took for granted in these restoration projects, but no one had quantified it before. I think it's going to be interesting for future studies to use this as a benchmark to know what's going on after transplanting corals."
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The results seem to indicate that coral restoration efforts could indeed have a positive impact on the sub-surface ecosystem in both the short-term and long-term. More importantly, the study brings some of the first hard scientific evidence to the table, underscoring the importance of these efforts and why they should continue.
Additional research concerning coral transplants could help conservationists quantify just how effective these efforts are in the real world and just how environments change over time once a coral transplant takes place.