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New Caledonia: Reef Transplantation Compensates for Habitat Loss in Prony Bay

Provided by Sandrine Job, Independent Consultant- CRISP Programme

<p>Photo credit: S. Job</p>

Photo credit: S. Job

The reef communities of Prony Bay in southern New Caledonia, located 1,200 km east of Australia, are renowned for their rare, endemic species and overall health.

In 2005, the nickel mining corporation Vale Inco NC selected the shore adjacent to Prony Bay for its headquarters, with plans to construct a port in an area with coral reefs. To compensate for the destruction of reef habitat, the mining company agreed to support the transplant of some of the healthiest corals from the port site to a new location. The company also agreed to fund monitoring of the rehabilitation site for a minimum of five years to evaluate the success of the transplantation.

The reef selected to host the transplanted colonies was located a few kilometers away on the sheltered side of Montravel Peninsula and exhibited similar environmental conditions. This reef had suffered major degradation from Cyclone Erica in 2003. Reef ecologists hoped that adding some healthy adult colonies would spark regeneration of the degraded reef. Two- thousand individual corals were collected, transported, and transplanted in December 2005.

Three years later, results had far exceeded ecologists' expectations. More than 80 percent of the transplants were thriving, having undergone significant growth with little degradation. Over time, many coral larvae had settling on hard substratum and grown into strong juvenile or adult colonies. Fish have colonized the restored site and the surrounding reef appears to have a more dense and diverse reef community.1

<p>Photo credit: S. Job</p>

Photo credit: S. Job

Many factors contributed to the project’s success, including meticulous handling of the corals, selection of a suitable site, and a lack of perturbation within the first few years of transplantation. Reef transplantation is a laborious task that requires a significant amount of time, money, and expertise. Reef transplantation remains experimental; in different circumstances, the Prony Bay transplantation might have failed. To increase the net benefit of such a large expenditure of resources, restoration projects are best coupled with community involvement to educate and raise awareness, as well as with scientific research to explore reef function. With adequate resources and favorable conditions, restoration can be a successful last resort to save an otherwise certain loss of reef habitat.

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  1. Edwards, A. J., Gomez, E.D. Reef Restoration Concepts and Guidelines: Making Sensible Management Choices in the Face of Uncertainty. 36-38 (St. Lucia, Australia, 2007). 

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