Pillars of Hope


One little-known fact about Coral Restoration Foundation's Tavernier Nursery is that we don't just have staghorn, elkhorn, and boulder corals species, we also have the pillar coral Dendrogyra cylindrus!


A healthy colony of pillar coral on a reef in the Dominican Republic.

This is the only species of pillar coral found in the Caribbean and it is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  In our nursery we currently have 7 genotypes of this species, and soon we are hoping to begin growing our production and preservation stock so that one day we will have enough to fragment and outplant clusters of pillar coral!


Diseased pillar coral colony at Sombrero Reef

Recently on an outplanting trip to Sombrero Reef, Data Program Manager Alex Neufeld came across a colony of diseased pillar coral.  Immediately after seeing this, Alex reached out to Dr. Karen Neely, one of our collaborators at Nova Southeastern University who does a lot of work with pillar corals in the Keys.

Dr. Neely had this to say about the colony:

"It got diseased about 3 months ago. We did some aggressive antibiotic treatments on early lesions which seemed to stop those particular patches, but it’s popping up everywhere on the colony now and we can’t keep up."

A two month old polyp formed by combining the eggs of the female colony at Sombrero Reef with the sperm from one of the male colonies. Photo by Dan Mele.

A really cool thing about pillar corals is that they can be gonochoric, meaning that the colonies are separate sexes, unlike many other corals that are hermaphroditic. 

Dr. Neely also told us that this particular colony is the only female pillar coral colony at Sombrero Reef.  A few years ago in 2016, they successfully mixed the eggs from this colony with sperm from the two male colonies at Sombrero, so there are three individual descendants of this colony currently living at Mote Marine Lab.  There are even fragments of this mother colony located at the NSU onshore nurseries, growing just fine and without disease. 

While the outlook is bleak for this particular colony at Sombrero Reef, there are healthy fragments of it living elsewhere and the genes have been passed down to offspring!

All of this amazing work with pillar corals in the Keys is being done in collaboration with Nova Southeastern University, Keys Marine Lab, Mote Marine Lab, Florida Aquarium, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and FWC.


#TalkingScience #CoralRestoration



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Erin graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BS in marine biology. While there she studied abroad at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science where she focused on coral reef ecology and conducted research on the behaviour of local fish species. It was during that semester she realized her passion for reef ecosystems and diving.  After returning to URI, Erin continued to take field courses and study abroad in places like Belize, England, the Florida Keys, and Honduras. She also completed an internship with the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance. In an effort to combine her previous experiences in science and education with restoration, Erin is ecstatic to be joining the CRF™ team and working towards a greener (and bluer!) tomorrow.



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