"It's a story of restoration and hope," Mike Echevarria, Chairman, Board of Directors Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), shares.
Members of Clearwater Garden Club were treated to learning more about one of the wonderful conservation programs the club supports. At the October program, Mike shared the story of the founding of Coral Restoration Foundation, and the work being done by this groundbreaking organization.
Since the 70's coral reefs off the coast of Florida have declined as much as 90%, but the innovative and essential techniques developed by Ken Nedimyer of the CRF are helping to reverse that. "Nobody has ever done this before," Mike shares. The foundation has over two acres of underwater nurseries in which staghorn and elkhorn corals are grown from cuttings to be replanted on the existing limestone where these reefs once thrived. It is the biggest coral nursery in the world.
Through experimentation and ingenuity, Nedimyer has developed "trees" using PVC pipe suspended by old lobster traps on which to grow the coral. The trees are safe for turtles and other sea life as there is no risk of entanglement, and the suspension system keeps the coral at the optimum depth to allow just the right amount of exposure to the light. Over the years, their research and experimentation has shown that the new cuttings thrive best near the top of the trees and then as they get larger and larger, they are moved further down the tree. Once large enough (usually after about 9 months), they are harvested from the tree and glued onto clean limestone by trained volunteer divers.
There are over 40,000 baby corals growing at any time, and over 150 different genotypes. The variation in genotypes is an important aspect of the program as it allows research to be done as to which types are the most resilient to changes in temperature and variations in algae levels. Having a variety of genomes planted in close proximity is important for promoting spawning and the natural reproduction of coral along the bedrock where these reefs once thrived. Experimentation is being done to find the ideal combination and ratio for planting. The goal is to restore the elkhorn/staghorn coral to swaths that could be as large as 800 sq. ft. in area and 9 ft. deep. Because they are such strong and hard coral, they provide the foundation for all other life on the reef.
"We see the fish coming into the area within minutes of us planting," Mike shared. "It's astounding. "The coral won't come back without help; The reefs by themselves are unsustainable because we've lost the coral mass that is necessary for sustainable spawning. We must intervene."
In addition to the actual physical planting of new reef growth to repopulate the barren limestone, another important component of the program is the research being done. Netting has been developed that is placed around an area of coral that actually "catches" the gametes which are then harvested and placed in other containers. Exposure to serotonin forces growth, and new corals begin to grow faster than they would on their own. This process allows the most resilient genotypes of coral to be grown more rapidly, facilitating more intervention.
Government and private citizens from all over the Caribbean are calling for help from the CRF, and they are ready to respond. "Once there is collaboration on their end of the right support systems, government agencies, and volunteers, we go in and help them develop programs that they can sustain on their own." The people at CRF are pleased to see conservation efforts like this going on around the world, wherever necessary, and they are more than willing to share and collaborate.
For more information on coral reef restoration or the Coral Restoration Foundation, visit http://www.coralrestoration.org.