Travelers are starting to help with coral replanting around the globe

Here's how the programs work—and what to know before you join in.

Beautiful and fragile, coral reefs in tropical oceans worldwide are threatened by climate change, storms, and bleaching. Now travelers can help restore them by supporting coral replanting programs.

National Geographic Explorer Paola Rodríguez-Troncoso has worked on a Mexican program that sustainably replanted more than 6,000 coral fragments over six years. In this project, divers collect fragments from the ocean floor that have been knocked off reefs by storms or waves. Then they tether healthy pieces to the substrata of reefs at the same or nearby sites. It’s a process that can vary by location. For example, in some areas where reefs border lagoons, such as French Polynesia, the coral fragments are placed in underwater nurseries to recuperate before replanting.

Coral Gardeners founder Titouan Bernicot drills holes into a dead part of the reef to insert living coral fragments. Photograph by Cristina G Mittermeir 

Bernicot replants a fragment of live Pocillopora damicornis coral after it spent a month in the nursery. Photograph by Cristina G Mittermeir

The Coral Gardeners collect broken fragments from resilient corals, such as this Pocillopora in Moorea’s lagoon, to replant in dead areas. Photograph by Cristina G Mittermeir. 

On Moorea’s outer reef, Acropora and Pocillopora corals show evidence of bleaching, a precursor to death, during a marine heat wave in April 2019. Photograph by Cristina G Mittermeir.

(Read more about new efforts to save dying coral reefs.)

Resorts and conservation groups are starting to educate and involve visitors in these efforts. To avoid programs that may do more harm than good, Rodríguez-Troncoso cautions against any that purposely break off fragments from healthy corals or fail to get the required permits. Though replanted fragments grow slowly, each one can be part of a reef’s centuries-long life span. “That small seed,” Rodríguez-Troncoso says, “that will really help.”

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