"Talking Science"... Again in April 2020 with the Coral Chronicles


A BRIGHT FUTURE: SURVEYING CHEECA FOR BOULDER CORALS


CRF™ has added a new restoration site to the family: Cheeca Rocks. This is one of the smaller and healthier reefs remaining in the Keys. Our surveys found that Cheeca has one of the last large stands of healthy boulder corals, making it an ideal location for our boulder coral outplanting. This month, we made a successful outplanting trip. The first of many!


CRF's dive team outplants at Cheeca Rocks. © Coral Restoration Foundation


Like all of our restoration sites, we began our work at Cheeca Rocks with capturing baseline photomosaics of the site before we started outplanting. As our new boulder corals grow and change over time, this initial mosaic will serve as a great point of comparison, demonstrating how the environment has responded to our work.


These photomosaics will also provide a fascinating look at the corals already present on Cheeca Rocks. In addition to its array of boulder corals, Cheeca is home to massive coral species that have become very scarce elsewhere in the Keys. Disease events and water quality problems have battered these species for decades, yet many of the massive corals at Cheeca are still standing strong today.


CRF's dive team outplants at Cheeca Rocks. © Coral Restoration Foundation


Capturing regular photomosaics of these corals over the next few years could provide us with clues as to why they’ve survived where others have not, and whether they are benefiting from our active restoration. Our work at this site, coupled with observations of these corals, could lay the groundwork for massive coral restoration across the Florida Reef Tract.


As we learn more about this new site, we’ll share updates on our evolving strategy. This latest boulder coral outplanting trip is a big step forward for us, and will pave the way for a new generation of massive coral restoration!


OVER THE HUMP: HALFWAY THROUGH NOAA YEAR ONE


We’re happy to report that CRF™ is halfway through the first year of our major NOAA outplanting grant! Now that we’re at this midpoint, we’re taking a look back at all of the monitoring we’ve done over the past six months for our semiannual report.


With how the past six months have gone, we're deeming this the year of the photomosaic at CRF™. We’re now consistently photographing each of our restoration sites four times: a baseline photomosaic, a photomosaic at the time of outplanting, and two additional photomosaics after one month and one year of growth.


We’re still running in-water diver surveys at one month and one year timepoints, but these trips now serve to complement our mosaic data more than they act as our primary method of monitoring. Together, they create a picture of what our corals are experiencing underwater.


CRF's most recent photomosaic. © Coral Restoration Foundation


In the last six months, we’ve completed twelve new photomosaics. Taken across three reef sites, these new mosaics cover freshly planted corals, growing colonies and areas we have just begun to work on. We’re looking forward to watching these mosaics slowly fill with coral as we return to them over the next year.


“It’s exciting to see how much we’ve completed in the first half of this renewed NOAA grant,” said Sabine Bailey, CRF™ Science Program Intern. “I look forward to seeing how much CRF™ will grow and continue to adapt monitoring techniques with our increasing number of coral outplants and novel outplanting methods.”

Our year one monitoring has also helped develop projects that we’re working on with partner organizations. Two of our photomosaic sites, Carysfort Reef and Horseshoe Reef, are target reefs for NOAA’s Mission: Iconic Reefs program. Over the next several years, CRF™ will be working closely with federal agencies and other conservation groups to restore these reefs at a never before seen scale. Our photomosaics are an important first step in realizing this mission.


We’re also using photomosaics to monitor the spawning recruits we received from the Florida Aquarium. These corals, which were fertilized from sperm and eggs collected in our nursery, began their lives in the Florida Aquarium and are now happily outplanted on Carysfort Reef.


Six months in, and we’re happy with where we are, but we still have a lot left to do before the year is over. Stay tuned for updates as we buckle down and finish this first year strong!


STAY HOME, STAY SCIENTIFIC: NOTES FROM A DIGITAL JOURNAL CLUB


Science never stops, even in the age of isolation, so CRF™ staff and interns took our monthly Journal Club online to discuss the latest and greatest articles in the world of reef restoration. This month, we looked at Spadaro et al. 's “Cryptic Herbivorous Invertebrates Restructure the Composition of Degraded Coral Reef Communities in the Florida Keys”, a paper exploring the benefits of reintroducing king crabs onto Caribbean reefs.


A Caribbean king crab featured in this month's journal club paper. © Spadaro et al.


“This is a really interesting paper for anyone who’s working in marine restoration,” said intern Krista LaForest, who led the discussion. “Many reefs in Florida are choked with algae, which makes it very difficult for new coral larvae to attach to the reef surface. By reintroducing herbivores like king crabs onto reefs, these scientists found that algae coverage decreases significantly, and more young corals can successfully recruit. It’s a fascinating look at coral reefs on multiple trophic levels, beyond just the coral itself.”

CRF™ Science Program Manager Amelia Moura joins the team for a digital journal club meeting. © Coral Restoration Foundation.


These findings could have big implications for our work here at CRF™. As we work towards the restoration targets outlined in Mission: Iconic Reefs, we will need to restore not only coral, but the many keystone species that protect coral from competitors. There is much research to be done on how coral-focused groups like CRF™ can work with scientists and other groups toward a holistic, ecosystem-level restoration strategy.


“Also, on a personal note, it was just really nice to see everybody,” continued Krista. “Working remotely isn’t easy, and I think we all appreciated the chance to unwind together and talk about science.”

You can read Spadaro et al.’s paper for yourself here, and have your own discussion about its significance for reef restoration! As social distancing continues, we hope that the entire CRF™ community is staying safe, healthy, and keeping their brains sharp until we can ‘talk science’ in person again.


"Talking Science" Editorial Intern

Nik is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where he studied English and environmental science. He grew up in Virginia, and first learned to dive on a family trip to the US Virgin Islands in 2011. During college, he travelled to Bocas Del Toro, Panama to study ocean acidification with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Nik is very happy to be contributing to the Coral Restoration Foundation™’s important work, and hopes to make a positive impact on the Keys’ marine communities both on land and in the water.

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