This story appears in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.
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.
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.”