What is marine coastal ecological restoration?

Human activities, as well as climatic disasters, are degrading natural habitats, which negatively impacts the entire ecosystem (i.e., the habitat and its associated living organisms of which humans are a part). Such a damaged ecosystem can return to its native state if a restoration program is implemented. This recovery can happen faster and be more effective if the damage to the ecosystem is not too important. For example, a mangrove forest can be replanted after deforestation caused by its use in firewood. Moreover, a damaged seagrass meadow can be restored by transplantation of plants from a different location. More generally, the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER, 2004) has defined ecological restoration as a process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed.

Figure 1: Transplantation of Cymodocea a seagrass specie.

The importance of ecological restoration

Ecological restoration projects are now coming to the forefront of sustainable development issues such that the United Nations (UN) has declared the current decade (2021-2030) as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. At the same time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme(UNEP), in partnership with 10 African and Asian countries, have joined forces to create The Restoration Initiative (TRI), with the aim of bridging the gap between restoration ambition and tangible progress on the ground.” The Society for Ecological Restoration has further defined 8 principles to guide the implementation of restoration projects. Each project must involve all of the chosen ecosystem’s stakeholders and therefore rely on various knowledge sources (i.e., practitioner knowledge, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Local Ecological Knowledge, and scientific discovery). The project must build on reference ecosystems while accounting for environmental changes and thus support the natural restoration processes of the ecosystem. In addition, the project must be evaluated against clear objectives using measurable indices, allowing the highest level of restoration to be targeted. Finally, the restoration action must gain cumulative value when applied on a large scale and thus be part of a continuum of restorative activities. If this last principle is followed in addition to the other ones, ecological restoration could then also be considered a Nature-based Solution as it contributes to protecting biodiversity and improving human wellbeing when implemented effectively and sustainably.

Figure 2 : The eight principles for Ecological Restoration (SER, 2019)

The challenges we need to address

One of the main challenges in restoration projects is to define the historical baseline towards which the restoration tends. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve a large scale or real continuum due to the large anthropization of Nature. This is all even more true in coastal marine habitats, where restoration technics are also less advanced due to the technological challenge the marine environment often represent.

As ecological restoration can be defined as a Nature-based Solution under certain condition develop above, the MaCoBioS project will consider ecological restoration as a possible solution in its way to propose different kind of Nature-based Solution to conserve, manage and restore marine coastal area in a climate change situation.

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