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Worldwide, marine ecosystems have been lost and degraded due to anthropogenic disturbances. For example, oyster reefs have declined by at least ∼85%, coral reefs by ∼19%, seagrasses by ∼29%, North American salt marshes by ∼42%, and mangroves by ∼35% from the early 19th century. Deepwater reefs and deep-sea ...

Worldwide, marine ecosystems have been lost and degraded due to anthropogenic disturbances. For example, oyster reefs have declined by at least ∼85%, coral reefs by ∼19%, seagrasses by ∼29%, North American salt marshes by ∼42%, and mangroves by ∼35% from the early 19th century. Deepwater reefs and deep-sea vents are not immune and have also been reduced in extent in many areas. Factors driving these losses include habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, overfishing, trawling, mining and, more recently, climate change effects, such as ocean warming, species range changes and acidification. These habitat declines are occurring at a time when marine waters are being used at or near their maximum productive capacity to meet the contemporary needs of an ever-increasing human population.

Because coastal and marine ecosystems generate some of the richest biodiversity hotspots on Earth, and provide critical ecosystem services, including storm protection, fisheries production, and carbon storage, over 1 billion US dollars have been spent globally in an attempt to halt and reverse observed declines. Early conservation efforts aimed at protecting these valuable and threatened habitats focused on reducing human impacts and physical stressors. However, with habitat degradation continuing and sometimes increasing in rate, it is now clear conservation alone will not be sufficient to protect and reestablish coastal ecosystems. Habitat restoration, although in existence for many decades, has recently been elevated as a new primary strategy to stem and even reverse coastal habitat loss.

The call for increasing investment in restoration efforts has emerged with significant advances in propagule rearing and dispersion of habitat-forming organisms (e.g., oysters, seagrasses, corals). In addition, restoration resources are increasingly allocated by governments and/or large corporations with the aim to, for example, fix past landscape engineering efforts that had unintended environmental consequences. Such investments are being made to (i) provide jobs for those unemployed during economic downturns, (ii) restore ecosystems destroyed by natural disasters and stressors, (iii) increase coastal defense in response to increased frequency of intense storms, and/or (iv) compensate for pollution-and development-driven habitat degradation.

Conservation practitioners have traditionally been skeptical to invest heavily in restoration at large-scales because of the high cost per area (10,000-5,000,000 US$/ha for coastal vs. 500-5,000 US$/ha for terrestrial systems) to replant coastal ecosystems and/or the high chance that the restored ecosystems will not live long (e.g. outplanted corals). For restoration to be effective and employed as a primary method of coastal conservation at relevant scales, we must improve its efficiency, lower costs and rapidly share and incorporate advances. One crucial step will be to identify when and where restoration attempts have been carried out according to state-of-art ecological theory and gauge their success. Another is generating synthesis studies that focus both within and across ecosystems to identify efficiencies, adaptations and innovations. Work that shows theoretical and methodological innovations in specific ecosystems as well as across systems will be critical to pushing all fields of MER forward. Although there is rapidly increasing interest and investment, the field of marine ecosystem restoration is just beginning to undergo synthesis. Therefore, the aim of this Research Topic is to bring together research contributions to help address this synthesis need, provide a spotlight for recent innovations, enhance our understanding of successful methods in marine ecosystem restoration and promote integration of ecological, sociological and engineering theory into restoration practices.

In particular, this article collection focuses on the following aspects:

i) innovation in ecosystem-specific restoration knowledge and design
ii) integration of ecological and conservation theory into restoration designs
iii) utilizing technology to advance marine ecosystem restoration

Keywords: Coastal and Marine Restoration, Ecological Engineering, Coastal Ecosystem Services, Living Shorelines, Coral Reefs, Oyster Reefs, Seagrasses, Salt Marshes, Mangroves, Kelp Forests

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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