Abstract: The abundance of corals has declined significantly over past decades, to the point where several reef-building species in the Caribbean are now listed as threatened. Active reef restoration has expanded exponentially to help recover degraded coral populations and the ecological services associated with healthy and complex reefs. While restoration practitioners now grow hundreds of coral genotypes from several species within coral nurseries and thousands of corals are outplanted onto degraded reefs annually, the cost of these activities continues to be a limiting factor. We describe a citizen science program, Rescue a Reef (RAR), which trains participants in reef restoration and provides unique experiential learning opportunities to recover degraded coral reefs by propagating and transplanting threatened coral species. Between 2015–2017, 230 participants outplanted >1300 staghorn corals, showing that citizen scientists significantly contribute to reef restoration. Most importantly, corals outplanted by RAR participants showed the same survivorship as those outplanted by scientific experts. The direct benefits of using citizen scientists for restoration are enhanced when the educational opportunities offered by these expeditions are considered. Results from our survey showed significant improvements in coral reef ecology and restoration knowledge for RAR participants. Thus, the growing field of reef restoration based on the coral gardening method offers a unique opportunity for participatory public engagement. By participating in these programs, citizen scientists can go beyond data collection to active restoration of degraded resources.

Source: Hesley, D., Burdeno, D., Drury, C., Schopmeyer, S., Lirman, D., 2017. Citizen science benefits coral reef restoration activities. Journal for Nature Conservation. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2017.09.001