RESTORING GENETICALLY UNIQUE CORAL RECRUITS TO CARYSFORT REEF
The opportunity to collaborate with different organizations and academic institutions
across the coral restoration community is one that has many potential far-reaching implications for the health of our reefs. When we work together to discover best practices for how we can save them, incredible results are possible.
At the end of 2021, CRF™ wrapped up a collaboration with Dr. Joe Henry that has been in the works for four years! This study aims to understand what happens when scientists raise corals from larvae to adult, return them to an ocean nursery environment, and then return them to the wild. The study is particularly interested in comparing the stats of coral recruits that spend different lengths of time in an ocean nursery. To understand the full scope of this research collaboration you’ll need some background information.
Researchers Joe Henry and Aaron Pilnick take baseline measurements of newly outplanted sexual coral recruits in December 2021. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
In 2017 and 2018, we collected egg and sperm bundles, aka gametes, from corals that had spawned in CRF™ nurseries. These gametes were transported to land-based facilities like the Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation where they were mixed together to assist in fertilization. From this event, sexual coral recruits were created. Sexual recruits have a unique set of genes from two different parents!
After between 8 months and 16 months in care at the Florida Aquarium, approximately 1,500 sexual recruits were placed back in the CRF™ coral nursery in Tavernier in 2019. This was the first time that such a large quantity of coral recruits were moved from a land-based facility back to an in-situ nursery. CRF™ was interested in how these recruits fared in the nursery, and how they performed on the reef as coral outplants.
After a short 8 months in the Tavernier Nursery, CRF™ outplanted the majority of those sexual recruits to Carysfort Reef, the first CRF™ restoration site to receive sexual recruit outplants! You can read even more about this stage of the process in our past coral chronicles article here: https://www.coralrestoration.org/post/talking-science-in-december-2019-with-the-coral-chronicles.
A subset of recruits remained in the Tavernier Nursery to be monitored in collaboration with Dr. Joe Henry, as direct comparison to a cohort of sexual recruits that Joe and his team planted at Cheeca Rocks and Tennessee Reef. These nursery corals were left to grow without any pruning for a year and a half, and their growth was amazing! So in the second half of 2021, we began discussions about how to design an experiment to wrap up this collaboration with one final outplanting event of these now-large sexual recruits.
These photos show the growth of one coral recruit starting at "time zero" when it was first placed back in a CRF™ nursery after living at the Florida Aquarium. The second photo shows the same coral 18 months after living in a CRF™ coral nursery! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
In December CRF™ staff and interns took another trip with Dr. Joe Henry and Aaron Pilnick to continue this years-long collaboration, this time driving out to the iconic Carysfort Reef. Our team assisted the researchers, Joe and Aaron, in placement of corals as they took measurements of each coral. The corals had grown so large in the Tavernier Nursery that each coral, each its own individual genotype, could be fragmented into 5 or more outplant-sized colonies. The corals were placed at least one meter apart from each other along two separate transects consisting of 100 recruits each.
CRF™ interns Kendall and Dana assist Dr. Joe Henry in his research by outplanting sexual coral recruits along a transect.
Initial measurements were taken of corals placed along the transect as a baseline. Their growth rate will be monitored over time to track how quickly they grow on the reef. These measurements also have the potential to be used as a comparison with the sexual recruits that were placed on Cheeca Rocks and Tennessee Reef in 2019 (remember them?! To learn more about the success of that initial outplanting experiment, read up on it here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00338-021-02154-2 ) With this knowledge we can begin to ask more pointed questions and work to establish best practices for reef restoration. If these "older" coral recruits fare just as well as their counterparts outplanted at a younger age, restoration practitioners will use that knowledge to inform their own outplanting timelines.
This years long collaboration has shown that scientists can successfully raise corals from larvae to adult and return them to the reef where they perform just as well as other 'traditional' coral outplants (asexually produced corals grown through the process of fragmentation). We now know we can increase genetic diversity through sexual reproduction by taking advantage of open ocean coral nurseries to gather gametes and raise the recruits after fertilization. It opens a world of opportunity to restore the genetic diversity and resilience of corals reefs.
CRF™ Science Program Intern Dana places a sexual coral recruit along a transect. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
"Talking Science" Editorial Intern
After spending many summers exploring the coasts of the Virginia Barrier Islands on the Chesapeake Bay and along the rocky beaches of Massachusetts’ South Shore, Kendall developed an immense passion for not only the ocean but marine conservation as a whole. She became SCUBA certified in 2013 while on a marine biology summer program that took her to different islands throughout the Caribbean. It was here that she got her first look at the astounding beauty of coral reefs and fully learned about the harsh human-based actions that have led to their demise.
Kendall graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in Geography/Environmental Studies and a minor in Geospatial Information Systems & Technologies in 2019. She has conducted field work in Fiji, Australia, and Curaçao with a variety of marine organisms including sharks, whales, and coral. She is extremely excited to intern with CRF and learn more about the conservation of coral reefs while simultaneously spreading their important message through effective and strategic communication.
ations to come.
Coral Chronicles Editor
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.