The Coral Restoration Foundation™ has been eagerly awaiting our first boulder coral update of 2019 - Are the boulder corals healthy? Have they grown?
Take a deep breath, we have all the answers.
It has been a few months since we introduced you to our boulder coral project. Since then a lot has happened! We were overjoyed to find FUSION on some of our clusters!
What is fusion and why is it important?
As our Science Program Intern Callie Stephenson recently explained in the latest edition of "Talking Science", one of our monthly news letters,
"Fusion is what happens when one coral touches a coral of the same species and genotype, and these two corals connect together to form one colony. Once this occurs, the larger colony benefits from shared resources and increased resilience, so fusion is an incredible thing to see occurring. As we start to observe and improve our methods, it is always exciting to see our efforts succeeding on the reef. But a coral reef can actually be a dangerous place for young coral polyps, it wasn't easy for these corals to make so much progress!"
As you may notice, there is a stark difference between the boulder corals on day one and those same corals one month later. We suspect this damage was likely caused by grazing parrot fish. At this time this damage was alarming and certainly cause for concern, but by the time we returned for three-month monitoring, there was cause for celebration! This is an amazing example of how resilient corals can be, even under immense stress.
But why are parrot fish munching on our boulder corals?
Parrot fish are extremely valuable to healthy reef ecosystems, these herbivorous fish provide two essential functions, algal grazing and bioerosion. Parrot fish have powerful beaks, which are actually modified teeth that they use to crunch on coral. Normally in areas of high coral coverage, these fish scrape stoney corals to consume algae and other tasty microorganisms. This process creates space for new coral recruitment, reduces algal competition, and erodes the calcium carbonate substrate. Believe it or not, this bioerosion (consumption & digestion) accounts for many of the sandy beaches (parrot fish feces) around the world! Normally the damage to larger coral colonies is minimal, however, in struggling ecosystems like the Florida Keys reef tract, there is less coral coverage, and fewer massive corals, which means that younger, more susceptible corals are more likely to become targets.
As we continue outplanting more boulder corals and documenting their progress, we'll keep the updates flowing your way on REEFocus! Until then, be sure to sign up for the Coral Chronicles on the homepage of our website for all the latest CRF™ news.
Come DIVE WITH US and help restore a reef with your own two hands!
About the Author
Kasen Wally graduated from Western Carolina University with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Shortly afterwards he discovered a passion for scuba diving and marine conservation during an internship with Reef Doctor in Madagascar. Upon returning home, Kasen has pursued that passion by joining us to learn more about Caribbean Reef restoration and to approach project development from a creative angle.
"I couldn't be more excited to work with the plethora of resources available to CRF, while helping to preserve a magnificent and critical ecosystem."