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New Techniques are Ramping up Reef Restoration in the Florida Keys

  • Coral Restoration Foundation™ is able to grow more than 44,000 “reef-ready” corals every year.

  • We are now developing ways of getting more, larger corals onto the reef to restore the habitat more quickly.

  • This “novel outplanting” project is being conducted under permits from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

  • These trials are taking place on sites that might be visited by recreational divers. We are asking for people to know what to look for, so that they don’t mistake the materials for marine debris.

CRF™ Restoration Program Manager outplanting using the new techniques

With support from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), we have begun to experiment with novel outplanting techniques for the staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, that would allow the organization to restore Florida’s reefs more quickly. This species is not affected by the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease that is currently threatening other corals on the reef.

The new techniques have been under development for the past year and are now being deployed at specific restoration sites in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. By year’s end, we plan to return up to 14,000 ecologically relevant (and critically endangered) A. cervicornis colonies to five reef sites in the Florida Keys, taking advantage of the increase in outplanting efficiency that the novel outplanting techniques allow.

Alex Neufeld, Coral Restoration Foundation™ Special Projects Coordinator, is helping to spearhead the project. He says, “These novel techniques represent the next evolution in the Coral Restoration Foundation™ model – one that will allow us to begin returning critically endangered corals to the reef at a scale that is immediately relevant from an ecological perspective. By outplanting large, mature colonies, we are not only introducing structural and biological complexity to the reefs very quickly, but we are also accelerating the reefs’ natural process of recovery via sexual reproduction of corals.”

Jessica Levy, Coral Restoration Foundation™ Restoration Program Manager adds, “This is also a timely development for us as we move deeper into the summer months and hurricane season. Getting larger corals off the trees means that we will be able to avoid a lot of potential issues associated with warmer summer waters and overcrowding in the nurseries. Smaller corals on the trees are also less likely to be lost if a big storm rolls through.”


Sharing information with, and learning from, other restoration practitioners is central to our work. These novel methods use sustainable materials that degrade over time, including bamboo and hemp rope, and represent techniques that have not yet been used in the Florida Keys, but draw on concepts pioneered by other groups around the world.


These new outplanting methods are being trialed at Carysfort, Horseshoe Reef, Conch Reef, and Pickles Reef. These are sites that are regularly visited by recreational divers and snorkelers. We are urging ocean lovers to be aware of the project, so that visitors to these “living laboratories” know not to try to remove the materials.

“These new methods can easily be mistaken for marine debris. Of course we always encourage people to leave the oceans cleaner than they found them whenever possible, but it's really important that people don’t disturb these sites,” says Neufeld, “Divers could see hemp line that looks like it is entangled in staghorn coral. Trying to remove it would do irreparable damage to the outplants.”


Through 2019, we will monitor the corals outplanted in this project to better understand which techniques are most successful. As these new techniques are tried and validated, we will be looking to pursue an expansion of the project in 2020 incorporating them into our core practice, replacing traditional outplant methods.

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