Monday, June 14, 2010

Coral Restoral

Corals all over the Caribbean are in trouble (Damsel in Distress). A recent paper in the journal Restoration Ecology has evaluated a new method for transplanting corals that could help healthy reefs grow back. The study site was White Bay in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. The researchers took pieces of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), that had been broken off in storms and took them to a site where elkhorn coral had been wiped out by disease in the 1980's and 1990's. Using underwater cement, epoxy resin, and plastic cable ties they affixed the coral fragments to the ocean floor and waited to see if they would grow.

They checked the site again 4 years later and found that 40% of the transplanted coral had survived, even after a large storm and 2 coral bleaching events, some even growing large enough (1,450 cm^2 in area) to become sexually mature. The experiment also showed that fixing the coral to the seabed was an overall better method, allowing for more coral growth, than leaving the fragments free.

This method is simple, cheap, and effective if somewhat labor intensive. As such, it is probably not feasible on a large scale, but it could be implemented locally to restore areas affected by storms, pollution, coral bleaching, overfishing, etc.

Here's the article:
Forrester. G, et al. (2010) Evaluating Methods for Transplanting Endangered Elkhorn Corals in the Virgin Islands. Restoration Ecology: published online. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-100X.2010.00664.x)

(image from wildlifeflorida.com)
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