OH THE ANIMALS YOU'LL SEE IN A CRF™ NURSERY
Coral reefs are known to support about 25% of all marine life, and within our nurseries there is plenty of that marine life coming to see how their future neighbors are doing. The common friendlies we see in our nurseries are yellowtail snappers, hogfish, wrasse, boxfish, conch, lobster, and so much more! The trees themselves are teeming with life besides coral, like brittle stars, arrow crabs, sea urchins, and amphipods that look like tiny shrimp that swarm you when cleaning algae off of the Coral Trees™. Some of our less frequent to rare visitors are Atlantic and southern stingrays, green sea turtles, and sharks.
A school of jacks joins our Coral Crew in a Coral Tree™ nursery. ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Speaking of sharks, a couple of weeks ago one of the Restoration team saw an adult hammerhead shark in our Tavernier Nursery! You'll have to trust our word on this story because of course not a single diver had a camera on them. It's like the awesome animals know when to stop by to avoid the spotlight. This hammerhead encounter is a very rare occurrence and everyone on the team that missed the encounter is incredibly jealous of the lucky few.
Where coral grows, life follows. The diversity of marine life we see in the nursery is linked to the prescience of the corals living there. Our Coral Trees™ hold 60 individual colonies with each colony getting as big as a basketball. This creates a miniature floating coral reef that attracts all our friendly neighbors! Once the corals are returned to their natural homes on the reef, the marine life follows!
Fish of all species flock to the structure the corals living in Coral Trees™ provide. ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
HOW TO BUILD A CORAL TREE™
Coral Trees™ aren't just popular with ocean animals, they are used by restoration groups around the world! Though CRF™ is credited with the invention of the Coral Tree™ structure the design is publically published and free to use! Here's the link to the full paper: http://reefresilience.org/wp-content/uploads/Nedimyer-et-al.-2011-Coral-Tree-Nursery.pdf
In fact the Coral Tree™ was invented with the intention for the materials to be easily accessible, transportable, and affordable. So here's a quick breakdown of how we build a Coral Tree™ here at CRF™ headquarters.
First, one of the Restoration team gets a pvc trunk cut to about 5 feet in length. Using two drill bits, we drill eight holes using a 3/8-inch bit and two holes using a 1/2-inch bit. The 1/2-inch holes are for the bottom two branches to support the corals and our teether lines that are used to anchor the tree to the sea floor.
Once the trunk is drilled out, the branches need to be drilled. We need eight 3/8-inch and two 1/2-inch fiberglass rods (branches) to form the tree we will be filling with 60 corals in the future. Each branch gets five holes on each side for a total of 10, and the middle is marked with sharpie for tree assembly. These holes are big enough to allow the monofilament lines used to hang corals through.
Now it’s time to put the branches and trunk together. We will use a mallet to get each branch centered. After that we will grab the hot glue gun nearby to secure each branch in place, ensuring the holes aren’t sideways. Once the glue has dried, we will grab part A and part B of the marine epoxy our Restoration Team uses and mix equal parts before putting it on the tree. Each branch gets two pieces of epoxy for a total of 20 pieces. Smoothing out each piece on the trunk and branch allows for the strongest hold. Now the tree is finished!
All we need now is to grab some floats and teether lines and we’re on our way to filling that tree with either staghorn or elkhorn corals. Once the tree is in our nursery, we use the teether lines to attach it to one of our duckbills that has already been installed. We attach the floats to downlines so we can use it as a pulley system on the duckbill and then tie two floats to the top of the tree so it will sit in the water column and can be raised or lowered depending on the time of year.
Last year we set a never before seen record in coral restroation returning over 45,000 corals to the wild in just 12 months. This year we are focussing on growing back our stock and ensuring our nurseries are functioning at max capacity to continue scaling up our operations.
©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
FEBRUARY MAKES US SHIVER
The Restoration Team did outplant this past month too though! We’ve started off strong. Since the start of the new year until now, we have returned corals to Pickles Reef, Carysfort Reef, Cheeca Rocks, and Eastern Dry Rocks down in Key West.
So far, Restoration has put 1,810 staghorn and 209 elkhorn back on the reef! Unfortunately, weather has kept us off the water frequently this month but we know that will change soon! Recently, one of the Restoration Team was outplanting and saw a couple spotted eagle rays cruising by. Jason Litwak (this article's author) has personally seen these magnificent creatures while swimming to a restoration site. Truly incredible how amazing the ocean and all its life is. We’re all in this together, never stop the fight because it’s necessary!
Bringing It Back Editorial Intern
Jason was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida. With the ocean just 15 minutes away, Jason was on the water every weekend fishing, scuba diving, or just boating for fun throughout his childhood. He received his boater’s license at 10 years old, and got open water certified a year later. Sporadically diving throughout middle and high school, Jason’s love for the ocean grew immensely. It was in a senior high school class that his passion for the ocean solidified, which caused him to make a career choice once he started college. He studied marine biology at the University of Central Florida and conducted a research project looking at vertebrate impacts on mangroves on a newly restored shoreline within Canaveral National Seashore, Florida. With CRF, Jason is extremely excited to learn and conduct the cutting-edge restoration and conservation practices taught here.
Coral Chronicles Editor
Madalen Howard is CRF's Communications and Outreach Coordinator. She comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, marketing and digital communications.
With CRF™ Madalen creates inclusive pathways to scientific discovery through content creation and by building and fostering relationships with press, digital media creators, and local community members. Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature, and is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration.