Coral reefs are dying. The beautiful ecosystems that took thousands of years to grow and expand are being quickly killed by the actions of humanity. They are dying because of bleaching, which is directly linked to global warming and pollution.
Mass coral bleaching events are occurring more and more regularly, with the reefs unable to recuperate. The majority of coral colonies will die when bleaching occurs as it leaves them extremely vulnerable.
Because of the massive threat that coral reefs face, scientists and conservationists are doing all they can to save the coral reefs. In a recent article, we discussed the amazing efforts of Dr. Asner, Dr. Martin, and their team of researchers from Arizona State University, and how they have made huge amounts of progress in regards to coral reef mapping. Today, however, we are going to look at coral gardening, what coral gardening programs are out there, and if they are able to save coral reefs.
What is Coral Gardening?
Coral gardening is the process of taking coral fragments from existing corals and putting them in coral nurseries. These coral nurseries might be in sheltered spots in the ocean, or in a laboratory. They are grown underwater, normally attached to a structure. The corals are monitored regularly.
The corals are then grown and this can take up to a year. Once the coral colonies are strong and healthy, they are planted into the coral reefs that are suffering. Here, they can continue to grow and spawn, restoring the coral reef.
Ocean-based nurseries are when fragments of coral are grown in a sheltered spot in the ocean. They are usually attached to a metal structure that gives every frag its own space and protection.
This method of coral gardening is popular as it is at a lower cost than growing corals on a farm or in a laboratory. It also means that more people can get involved, with volunteers all being able to aid in the coral gardening.
Unfortunately, with this type of coral gardening, the corals are subjected to the changes in the ocean such as temperature and salinity. This might affect their overall growth. However, this might also mean that they take to the coral reefs better, being more used to the changes in the ocean’s water.
Land-based nurseries are where the corals are grown in laboratories or farms. This technique is more expensive than ocean-based nurseries and requires more expert staff, however, it means that the corals can be monitored more easily.
According to Sciencing.com, land-based nurseries also mean that the coral reefs grow faster. This is because they allow for different processes, such as microfragmenting, which enhance the growth of the corals.
What Coral Gardening Programs Are At Work Right Now?
Coral gardening means that we can restore coral reefs and begin to undo the effects of coral bleaching. There are so many amazing coral gardening programs happening around the world right now, and a lot of them are run by volunteers or rely on donations. We have picked a few of our favorite coral gardening programs to spread the word in regards to the amazing work that they are doing!
The Coral Restoration Foundation
The Coral Restoration Foundation works with ocean-based nurseries, growing and outplanting endangered corals.
According to their website, they fragment coral colonies into smaller sizes and attach them to an underwater structure that they call a coral tree. These structures are attached to the ocean floor and each tree can hold up to 100 corals. They currently have seven coral nurseries in south Florida that grow eleven different types of coral. These corals include staghorn and elkhorn corals which are hard corals that are both really important in the reefs in the Caribbean.
The coral colonies that are grown are outplanted in the Florida Reef Tract after around six to nine months. Since 2012, the Coral Restoration Foundation has outplanted more than 120,000 corals.
This community has a focus on super corals and believes that working with them is the best way to protect our coral reefs.
According to The Conversation, super corals are species of coral that can withstand extreme conditions and changes in their environment. According to their website, Coral Gardeners work with corals that have survived bleaching events and therefore should survive and thrive in the wild.
Coral Gardeners, based in the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, analyze damaged areas and pick corals that they deem to be super corals. They then place them in a coral tree or on a rope in the ocean. After a year or so, the coral is then planted back into the original reef. Both the corals in the nursery and in the reef are monitored closely. They focus on learning what works and what corals thrive when replanted.
Austin Bowden-Kerby is a semi-retired biologist who lives in Fiji. According to ABC, he has been experimenting with coral reef gardening for forty years. In 2000 a mass coral bleaching event caused the majority of the corals in Dr. Bowden-Kerby’s ocean-based nurseries to die. However, he noticed that some still survived and decided to work with them, fragmenting them and putting them in the nursery.
He is another conservationist who believes that super corals are the way forward when it comes to coral gardening and restoration. He now only works with super corals and, according to ABC, has partnered up with Fiji’s tourism sector to work with resorts that now employ coral gardeners.
Will Coral Gardening Make a Difference?
Coral gardening is a part of the solution, but it is not the entire solution. The work of these groups and individuals are truly amazing, and they show us that we can get involved in saving coral reefs, be it by donating or volunteering. The move towards working with super corals is really interesting and suggests that we can grow hardy corals. According to the Miami Herald, scientists are now growing corals in the lab and putting them through stress in order for them to produce more hardy offspring. These scientists also believe that super corals are the answer.
The corals that are replanted in the reefs around the world by the different organizations seem to settle in and survive. This means that we revive and restore coral reefs that are currently in grave danger.
This is a fantastic step towards saving coral reefs, however, it is only a part of the answer. No matter how super the corals are or how many coral colonies are replanted in the ocean, if global warming carries on as it does, coral reefs will not survive. Therefore, we must also put pressure on policymakers, spread awareness, and call for big changes in society.