World’s Largest Coral Restoration Project Unveiled In The Red Sea

KAUST’s new coral nursery on the coast of NEOM will produce 40,000 corals annually while a secondary facility with ten times this capacity is built. 

NEOM, Saudi Arabia, 25 April 2024 – Scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have begun work at the KAUST Coral Restoration Initiative (KCRI)’s first nursery. KCRI is the largest coral restoration project in the world and represents a significant step towards restoring reefs globally with a primary nursery officially in operation and a second facility in development, both in the Red Sea. KCRI is funded by KAUST, a world-class graduate research university in Saudi Arabia, which was recently ranked as the number one Arab University by Times Higher Education. 

The newly built nursery, on the coast of NEOM in northwest Saudi Arabia, is set to transform coral restoration efforts with a production capacity of 40,000 corals annually. Functioning as a pioneering pilot facility, researchers will leverage it as the blueprint for large-scale coral restoration initiatives. Most importantly, this facility serves as a precursor to a more ambitious project: the world's largest and most advanced land-based coral nursery. Located at the same site, this advanced coral nursery will boast a ten-fold larger capacity to nurture 400,000 corals annually. With construction quickly progressing, the project is anticipated to reach completion by December 2025. 

Home to 25% of known marine species despite covering less than 1% of the sea floori, coral reefs are the bedrock of numerous marine ecosystems. This is one reason why scientists are so concerned about the rising rate of mass bleaching events, with experts estimating up to 90% of global coral reefs will experience severe heat stress on an annually by 2050ii. With the frequency of such events on the rise, solutions for coral recovery will be crucial for a healthy ocean. 

In alignment with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and its efforts to bolster marine conservationiii, this major initiative leverages KAUST's world-leading research into marine ecosystems and serves as a platform for trialing innovative restoration methods. Set within a 100-hectare site, the initiative will deploy 2 million coral fragments, marking a significant step in conservation efforts. 

KCRI seamlessly aligns with KAUST’s overarching strategy, showcasing its dedication to catalyzing positive societal and global outcomes. Beyond environmental restoration, the project offers educational benefits, further reinforcing its alignment with the broader strategic goals outlined in Vision 2030. 

Professor Tony Chan, President of KAUST comments: “Recent events provide a stark reminder of the global crisis that coral reefs face. Our ambition is, therefore, to pioneer a pathway to upscale from the current labor-intensive restoration efforts to industrial-scale processes required to reverse the current rate of coral reef degradation. As a significant output of KAUST’s new strategy, the university is contributing the world-leading expertise of our faculty, who are working on technologies to bring this vision to fruition.”  

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO, NEOM, said: "This significant initiative reflects NEOM's commitment to sustainability and to innovating solutions for the environmental challenges facing the world. As pioneers of sustainable development, reviving the vital sites of coral reefs is a natural step in our partnership with KAUST. Through our long-standing partnership with the University, we will also highlight the role of coral reefs, among the most important marine environmental systems, and the value of their preservation for future generations.” 

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