SETTING OUR TEAM UP FOR SUCCESS: ORGANIZING OUR TAVERNIER CORAL NURSERY
Winter is coming to the Keys. Winds are picking up and bringing larger waves, choppier waters, and less opportunities to outplant corals. When this happens we turn our attention to coral nursery maintenance. CRF™ currently cares for 7 coral nurseries throughout the Florida Keys. Our latest project is happening in the largest of these, our Tavernier Nursery which covers 1.5 acres of seafloor. Our restoration team is organizing the elkhorn coral propagation section of this nursery!
Aerial view of the CRF™ Tavernier Coral Nursery ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Today each Coral Tree™ in our Tavernier Nursery holds multiple fragments of one coral genotype. These genotypes were originally assigned based on the coral fragment collection location, a practice commonly used in coral restoration. Way back in the day CRF™ used to collect fragments of wild corals directly from Florida’s Coral Reef. If we originally collected a coral from Carysfort Reef we would tag it as such, giving it what is called a putative genotype number based on the location it was found. An example would be a fragment of elkhorn collected from Carysfort Reef would be labelled ‘CF2’ and a second fragment of elkhorn collected from Carysfort Reef a few hundred feet away would be labelled ‘CF3’.
While this labelling method allowed CRF™ to keep track of distinct coral samples it hindered us from sharing collection data easily with management groups and fellow coral scientists. To fix this problem we created a standardized naming convention which does not reference location but simply differentiates each genotype as a number. Instead of having an elkhorn genotype represented as ‘CF2’, we now have an abbreviation of the coral species and a number (Apal-001) to represent the genotype.
Genotype tags housed at CRF™ headquarters in Tavernier, FL ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
When we standardized our system, we also found a need to organize the layout of our Coral Trees™ within our Tavernier Nursery. We decided the best and most efficient way to organize our Trees™ is numerically, by their new, standardized genotype number. This will ensure all Trees™ holding the same genotype will be in close proximity. Having the trees of the same genotype in proximity makes harvesting for outplanting much more efficient. If one Tree’s corals are too small, rather than having to go across our nursery to harvest more, we have more of the same genotype right next to one another.
CRF™ Coral Trees™ holding elkhorn corals ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Organizing the Tavernier Nursery will help us operate at peak efficiency. The nursery will be more navigable (which is helpful for our Recreational Dive Programs and volunteers who do not visit our nurseries everyday) and streamlines the efficiency of day-to-day nursery maintenance.
Now you know why we are putting in the effort to organize, let’s look at how this is going to happen. We are moving full Coral Trees™ across hundreds of feet to entirely new anchor points. Our divers attach a 20-pound weight belt to the Trees™ so they will not float up when we untie them from their original anchor site. Then, we walk or swim the tree over to its new site and tie it back down. You can see part of the process captured on video on our YouTube channel!
This organization is vital as we continue to expand our nurseries, scale up our operations, and collaborate with coral scientists, management agencies, and restoration organizations worldwide.
BOULDER CORAL GENE BANK IN THE MAKING
Coral Restoration Foundation™ is always improving our methods, and as you read above, we’ve been seeing waves of change in our nursery lately. Along with the organization of our elkhorn production section, our restoration teams are updating the boulder coral section of our Coral Gene Bank found in our Tavernier Nursery. They organized the elkhorn and staghorn sections of the gene bank back in September (read that story here) and now it is time to do the same for the boulder corals!
Boulder corals on a Coral Tree™ in a CRF™ coral nursery. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
There will be four Boulder Coral Trees™ in our gene bank in total; two will hold Orbicella annularis and two Orbicella faveolata. Each species has 36 individual genotypes that will be preserved in the gene bank section separate from the boulder production section. This separation provides redundancy which acts as a failsafe in case the boulder corals in our production section are lost from some kind of stress event, like disease or bleaching.
If that were to happen, the boulder corals housed in our gene bank can be fragmented and one of those new fragments transferred to the boulder coral production section thus conserving the genotype and maintaining a population of corals to be returned to the wild.
Orbicella spp. living in our Tavernier Nursery ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Adding to the challenge of organizing our boulder coral Gene Bank is the fact that we are also updating all our older Boulder Coral Trees™. Some of the Boulder Coral Trees™ in our nursery are outdated models. To operate at peak performance, we are taking time to remove and replace them with our newest and best model. This process involves replacing genotype tags, cleaning plugs, and relocating the corals to new trays. Once the new trays are filled, we remove the old Coral Trees™ from our nursery, install new Trees™ in their place, and add the trays full of fresh, clean, organized corals!
Three iterations of a boulder Coral Tree™ from oldest (left) to newest (right) ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
This organization is time-consuming, but so necessary for the efficiency of our operations. Having all our boulder genotypes conserved in our gene bank is vital for their long-term survival and organizing the gene bank itself will make managing genotype transfers easier.
CRF™ diver cleans algae from a boulder coral plug. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
While the task of restoring an ecosystem is a huge undertaking, every little action helps, and with the spirit of giving coming upon us, we encourage you to help us restore Florida’s Coral Reef this giving Tuesday, Nov. 30th.
RESOURCES FOR YOU
In the absence of an in-person meeting in 2021, the Coral Restoration Consortium (CRC) is hosting this FREE two-part virtual gathering - Part 1 will launch on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 and Part 2 will launch on Thursday, December 16, 2021.
"Bringing It Back" Editorial Interns
"Bringing it Back" Editorial Intern
Tom grew up in Palm Springs, CA and knew he wanted to be an environmentalist from an early age. His interest in the natural world was fueled by frequent trips to the beaches, deserts, and forests of the West Coast. Tom recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Conservation Biology. He entered the marine realm after taking his first conservation class and learning about how vulnerable coral reefs are to climate change. He started diving in the Channel Islands and became a scientific diver to research algae while on a quarter abroad in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. While abroad, he experienced the degradation of coral reefs firsthand. Tom is very excited to work with CRF™ to make a positive impact on coral reefs and inspire people to take action to tackle the upcoming climate crisis.
Madalen Howard is CRF's Marketing Associate. Madalen 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, and communications.
Madalen spent the last 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. Here she was able to study and teach marine ecology, while snorkeling through mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs every day. While at MarineLab she combined her education and research background, entered the world of communications, and developed MarineLab’s social media department from the ground up.
Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature. With CRF™, she is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration, creating inclusive pathways to scientific discovery.