Permaculture Tools for Ecosystem Restoration: World Environment Day

Rozie Apps - Permaculture Magazine
Friday, 4th June 2021

Every 5th June, the United Nations celebrate World Environment Day. For 2021, they are urging for action to revive Earth's damaged ecosystems. We're sharing a few of the many projects around the world using permaculture tools to restore ecosystems in the oceans, coral reefs, forests, mountains and deserts.

If you've been reading Permaculture Magazine, you'll know that permaculture offers the tools for small and large-scale ecosystem restoration. 

The planet's ecosystems are being lost at an alarming rate, and humans depend on these ecosystems being healthy for our survival. The United Nations (UN) state that over 4.7 million hectares of forests (about the size of Denmark) is being lost every year, with over the half of the planet's wetland gone in the last 100 years.+

Due to the destruction of so many ecosystems, we are losing 'carbon sinks' that hold on to carbon, preventing it being released into the atmosphere. For our planet to holt and even reverse climate change, we need to be holding as much carbon as possible in our soils, forests, oceans and landscapes. And this can be done.

Today, we want to share and celebrate some of the pioneering work taking place across the globe, that is working hard towards reversing climate change, while restoring and regenerating landscapes for our healthy but also the planet's.

Ocean regeneration

Back in autumn 2019, we featured two impressive projects working to restoring ocean ecosystems.

Marine permaculture arrays: Dr. Brian Von Herzen from the Climate Foundation has created floating platforms that use wave energy to restore nutrient upwelling. Climate change is creating warmer waters, which become a thick layer near the surface, creating a barrier for nutrients coming from the lower levels of the ocean – this takes away the food source for plankton, which is the food source for hundreds of fish, including whale sharks. The platform grows kelp, the wave technology brings the nutrients through the warm layer, which then creates the right conditions for plankton and therefore a healthy, balanced ecosystem. Von Herzen and the Climate Foundation installed the wave-driven platforms in the Pacific Ocean around 100km north of Hawaii that is currently an ocean desert. ‘In just 57 hours after deployment, the system sparked plankton growth. Shortly thereafter, these blooms attracted various species of fish. Two weeks later, a 17 foot long [5m] whale shark was circling the area feeding on plankton that had started blooming.’




Bren Smith, a fisherman at Thimble Island, Canada, is using a 3D ocean farm model to as a response to his oyster farm being destroyed by increasing amount of storms. Using vertical columns of the sea, four types of shellfish and native seaweeds are grown off ropes. The columns act as a buffer, so when a storm surge hits, the surges aren't so destructive. Bren grows kelp, which is the second fastest growing plant on the planet, and oysters which filter 20-30 gallons of water a day. So Bren's business is providing a healthy living but also providing an artificial reef which cleans water, and provides habitat. Bren has also set up Greenwave, a charity to support others interested in this ecological ocean farming method. He wants it to be easy to replicate, with a goal of 500 farms across 10 regions in just five years.


Both projects can be found in PM101

Coral reefs

In PM102, Winter 2019, Nik Bertulis shared some of the innovative solutions being used to restore coral reefs, which have been dying at an unprecedented rate due to lethal doses of toxic runoff, coastal development, warming and acidifying oceans and the list goes on. Good watershed management, such as reducing (halting) the pollution that makes its way into our waterways and building healthy soil through mulching and earthworks to reduce soil erosion, are useful tools, but increasing the growth of coral is also a major step forward. Dr. Thomas Goreau uses biorock, where la ow voltage electrical current (often via solar panels) is applied to a conducive material that causes minerals in the sweater to precipitate, creating a strong limestone – coral. These 'corals' are more resilient to warming seas, grow faster, raise coral babies above the sea floor (which prevents damage from storms) and are non-toxic, unlike other artificial reef materials. This makes these corals invaluable; they are able to re-establish a more resilient reef.

Dr. David Vaughn has been using micro-fracturing, where a fine blade slices one large piece of coral into multiple small pieces, which will each grow much faster than growing coral from 'seed'. 


Desert regeneration 

In spring 2019 we explored two prize winning projects that are regenerating desert landscapes.

The Permaculture Provision Project in the Navajo Nation's Reservation, in Colorado, is based in vast desert. The project is a demonstration site, showcasing permaculture's tools for regeneration. The project emerged through permaculture-inspired Grant Curry, and his relationship with Navajo members. Through strong relationships with several members, Grant was able to encourage the implementation of swales, tree planting and irrigation methods. These successes have inspired others, spreading these methods across the nation. Earnest and Edwina Diswood, caretakers of 2,200 acres fully committed – they now have over 50 trees and a huge swale thriving in the middle of a barren landscape. Grant also teaches permaculture classes at his educational farm, and prepares meals with fresh produce to share with the Navajo attendees. These course participants learn about humane composting, passive solar architecture and much more.

The Navajo Nation covers 17,544,500 acres across several states. It is also the biggest brown spot on the map of North America.

©Permaculture Provision Project


Al Baydha Project in Saudia Arabia is using the same principles in an area with very erratic rainfall. Many months are almost rain-free with others bring flash flooding. A 36.4 hectare site was selected, which included mountains, wadis and flood plains – representing the geographic fractals of the region. Check dams, berms, bunds and Zuni bowls were installed to slow mountain flood water and hold it into the landscape for longer. The flood plain was filled with 4km worth of swales, each being 3 metres wide by 1.5 metres deep, equating to 18,000 cubic metres of water being held. Thousands of drought-tolerant trees have been planted which hold water into the landscape and prevent soil erosion. Between 2010 and 2016, it rained just four times, so the dams and swales really came into use. In 2016, irrigation to the site was cut, to allow the site to truly adapt to the pressures of the climate – Ziziphus, Moringa and Commiphora remained green and productive while other species went dormant.

In Al Baydha there is around 1,400 square kilometres where this regenerative agriculture could be implemented, and another 12 million hectares along the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula.



In PM85 – 2015, award-winning filmmaker, John D. Liu, shares his years of work exploring ecosystem restoration, focusing on the successful regeneration of the Loess Plateau in China, which had become a vast desert from centuries of agriculture. In his film, 'Hope in a Changing Climate' John follows the Loess project over 15 years, showing the remarkable transformation from eroded, barren soils, to green forests and productive fields. John also shows the regenerative work that's taken place at Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal, where the creation of a lake has held water in the landscape and with it a green landscape has arisen.

Mountain landscapes

Back in 2013, Anna Staerbo visited the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES), where subsistence farmers and ex-guerrilas were reviving the mountain soils. Studies of El Salvador showed a 1/5oC temperature increase over the last 40 years, with a projected increase of another 1oC – devastating for those trying to make a living there. As well as effects of temperature increase to worry about, climate change has also brough a change in the wet season which makes sowing, harvesting and drying their staple maize and bean crops difficult. Over a three year period, some farmers lost 80% of their maize and 50% of their beans. The IPES teach local farmers about the potential threats coming their way, and they learn how to become more resilient. This includes growing seeds that are more resilient to climate changes, creating healthy soil and protecting it through proper drainage, natural windbreaks and keeping the ground covered. On steep slopes, farmers learn to map how the water travels, using this to create swales that will slow the water and prevent soil erosion.

©Agustina Zamin

Forest regeneration

In 2020 we came across Contour Lines, (one of our Permaculture Magazine Prize winners). Based in the highland jungles of Guatemala's Caribbean coast, they teach local farmers regenerative farming techniques to reverse the degraded soils caused by slash and burn agriculture. As the name suggests, their focus is on growing on contour – by working with the landscape, farmers learn to plant useful, diverse food forests that provide a wide variety of nutrients, food and income. By diversifying their crop production they ensure greater security compared to the traditional slash and burn annual monocultures. Food forests are better suited to these rainforest ecosystems – steep terrain and high rainfall can create many difficulties, but permanent tree systems prevent soil erosion, slow water runoff, produce biomass, sequester carbon and restore hydrological and nutrient systems. Each year, in each community, two local projects (receiving 100 fruit trees each) are selected by the community as the first benefactors. It's important to choose recipients who will work hard and be successful because if the trees are well-maintained, then those original benefactors can invite two more local projects to receive the 100 trees the following year. Projects then expand exponentially, but only where successful which ensures lower costs but higher tree survival rates.

©Contour Lines Crop

Ecosystem Restoration Camps

In 2016, John D. Liu introduced us to Earth Restoration Camps, eco settlements designed to train people to regenerate landscapes and communities anywhere in the world. Then it was an early concept, and to date there are 30 registered camps, with dozens more registering: India, Kenya, Egypt, Somalia, South Africa, Thailand, Guatemala, Australia, the United States and more. Learn more at:

All of these hard-working and regenerative projects, and many more, are featured in the back issues of Permaculture Magazine. They can all be accessed and read via the FREE digital access given to all subscribers. If you are a print subscriber, you just need your 'subscriber reference number' found on your magazine postal wrapper, and then use the instructions in your magazine's inside back cover to get your access. All digital subscriptions automatically have access to back issues.