Coral reefs around the world are in trouble. Recent news reports say half of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016. Researchers and environmental advocates have been throwing around ideas of ways to save the reefs. One option to consider is transplanting them.
The Gulf of Aqaba sits right between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on its east side and Jordan and Saudi Arabia on its west side. This gulf is home to many coral reefs, but is also the site of heavy urban development.
So the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority partnered with the United Nations Development Program to relocate the coral.
The primary goal for transplanting coral is not environmentalism, but meeting tourism demands. Some development projects would render popular scuba diving sites inaccessible. The objective is, essentially, to have your cake and eat it too: Continue with development and save the coral by moving it somewhere else.
Even though the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority is not primarily concerned with conservation, transplanting coral could be a strategy to consider when we think about how to save dying reefs.
How do you transplant coral?
Teams of divers place the coral in baskets, which are kept underwater while being towed to a new location. Once they arrive, the coral are replanted using metal structures that were designed specifically for coral and cement designed to be used underwater.
New corals may be planted at damaged reefs or entirely new coral "nurseries." The sites are placed under protection to ensure the transplant is successful, before being opened to divers.
Does this help the corals?
The corals that have been transplanted in Aqaba are thriving. They've been growing at a rate of 2 inches per year, and the survival rate is about 85 percent. That's significantly higher than the average survival rate of 60 to 65 percent.
Many types of coral found in the Gulf of Aqaba are resistant to the bleaching effects that high temperatures can have on coral. If we can come up with a way to transplant them further than a few miles, these corals could potentially be used to regenerate dying reefs in other parts of the world.