Date released
15 March 2024

Coral reefs in Southeast Asia are global centres of marine biodiversity. The reefs have immense ecological, socio-economic, and cultural values. However, the natural recovery and resilience of reefs is under pressure from increasing human impacts interacting with changing climate-ocean systems and marine heatwaves. 

Coral attached to reef

‘Protecting healthy reefs and actively restoring damaged reefs is essential to maintain ecosystem benefits including coastal protection and fisheries production for food security and wellbeing of local communities. It is these very reasons why the protection of coral reefs is a priority for both Australia and our partners in Southeast Asia,’ Dr Ingrid van Putten, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Fisheries.

For more than 4 decades, ACIAR has collaborated with partners in Australia and Southeast Asia to manage and safeguard maritime ecosystems and protect communities that depend on aquatic resources. 

In the Philippines, ACIAR has been working since 2015 with the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP -MSI) on one of the world’s first large-scale restoration of damaged reefs using coral larval reseeding

Australia’s Southern Cross University (led by distinguised Professor Dr Peter Harrison and Research Fellow Dr Dexter dela Cruz) and the UP-MSI (led by Dr Vanessa Rodriguez-Baria) have been leading an innovative approach on coral reef restoration which relies on coral sexual reproduction – growing millions of coral larvae in the laboratory and in open water floating pens and tanks, and then delivering them onto the reefs in large underwater tents. Dr Dela Cruz was recently awarded by the Australian Embassy in the Philippines as Australia Alumni Excellence Award - Alumnus of the Year for this groundbreaking work.  

This approach has demonstrated rapid coral population recovery, re-establishment of breeding populations and increased fish abundance from larval coral restoration interventions. The project has attracted global interest and stimulated The project has attracted global interest and has stimulated more research initiatives in the Philippines and in Australia including in the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia has provided further support to scale-up and expand the research work in the Philippines, to engage more stakeholders, especially communities, to develop new strategies to ensure a more sustainable management and governance of restored reef areas. 

These initiatives contribute to furthering the Australia-Philippines Strategic Partnership, led by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, particularly on agricultural research partnership, improving food security and resilience and protecting marine environment.

Results of the research partnerships in the Philippines have created interest to establish linkages with other countries in Southeast Asia which will enable scientists and researchers to share good practices and collaborate on technical restoration capability founded on research. It lays the foundations for the development of a Community-based Coral Restoration Network (CRC) in Southeast Asia, drawing on an increased awareness and understanding of sustainable coral reef restoration techniques and fisheries, and aquaculture practices undertaken in Australia that could be applied in local contexts to support restoration efforts in their respective countries. 

The Network would also draw on lessons and best practices from research projects on community-based coral reef restoration funded by the Philippines Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST – PCAARRD). The Network will support the ongoing protection of the coral reef ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them to thrive.