Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

A comprehensive review of global efforts to restore coral reefs using built structures points to both the potential benefits and significant knowledge gaps in current practices.

Researchers have systematically mapped the global distribution and abundance of evidence regarding the ecological and physical performance of artificial and hybrid structures in shallow tropical coral ecosystems. This study aims to guide future restoration projects and inform management decisions in the face of mounting threats to coral reefs.

Shallow, tropical coral reefs are threatened by climate change, coastal development, pollution, storms, sea-level rise, and destructive human activities like blast fishing and dredging. These factors degrade reef height and complexity, which are crucial for supporting diverse marine life. 

To counteract this degradation, scientists and coastal managers have turned to built structures—artificial, natural, or hybrid creations designed to restore the physical structure of coral reefs. 

These structures vary widely, from purpose-built modules and repurposed materials to underwater sculptures and strategically placed natural rocks. Their adoption is gaining traction worldwide, yet a lack of synthesized evidence on their effectiveness hampers informed decision-making.

Underwater image of artificial reef structures developed by University of Miami researchers
Artificial reef structures developed by the University of Miami.

The recent study, which systematically mapped published evidence on these interventions, underscores the importance of understanding both the ecological and physical impacts of built structures. The researchers found that while there are several clusters of evidence indicating successful outcomes in specific contexts, there are also significant gaps, particularly regarding long-term ecological effects and broader seascape-scale impacts.

Restored coral reef off Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

"When coral reefs are severely degraded, built structures can be a critical part of restoring coral ecosystems, providing habitats and aiding in the physical recovery of reefs,” said USGS Research Geologist Curt Storlazzi, a co-author of the study. “However, our study emphasizes that we need more comprehensive data on their ecologic and hydrodynamic to fully understand their long-term benefits and potential drawbacks."

The study also points to several promising avenues for future research, such as examining how these structures affect larger ecological networks and their physical durability over time.

"By identifying where evidence is robust and where it is lacking, we can better target our research efforts and funding to maximize the effectiveness of coral reef restoration projects," Storlazzi said. "This will ultimately enhance our ability to protect and restore these vital ecosystems in a changing world.” 

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.