2022 SCIENCE PROGRAM YEAR IN REVIEW
Every year at Coral Restoration Foundation™, we look back and remember all of the progress we’ve made as an organization! This year we returned genetically unique sexual recruits to nearby reefs, made huge developments with our photomosaics, witnessed multiple successful nights of coral spawning, and, best of all, broke our previous record for corals returned to the reef—plus much more! Read on to learn about our progress in 2022!
January, February, March
At the end of 2021, CRF™ wrapped up a collaboration with Dr. Joe Henry after four years of hard work! In 2017 and 2018, we collected egg and sperm bundles, or gametes, from corals that spawned in CRF™ nurseries. These gametes were fertilized and raised by collaborating scientists in land nurseries, but once they were about the size of a thumb they were extracted and placed back into CRF's open ocean nurseries—these coral babies are called sexual recruits! In December 2021 CRF™ staff and interns took a trip with Dr. Joe Henry and Aaron Pilnick to bring this years-long collaboration full circle driving out to the iconic Carysfort Reef where our team assisted the researchers in returning the coral babies to the wild!
Coral babies, aka sexual recruits, are raised in a CRF nursery and returned to the wild as a part of a years long research collaboration with Dr. Joseph Henry! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
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). To read the full story click below! https://www.coralrestoration.org/post/talking-science-in-february-2022-with-the-coral-chronicles
That's not all that happened early in 2022. Remember our pillar corals? Our science team has developed a safe and replicable method to fragment pillar corals, increasing their population and bolstering growth! In January 2022 we generated a combined total of 99 new pillar coral fragments! Eventually, we hope return our pillar corals to reefs along the Florida Keys! https://www.coralrestoration.org/post/talking-science-in-march-2022-with-the-coral-chronicles
Pillar corals are fragmented by Coral Restoration Foundation™ as part of the species rescue plan! ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundaiton™
April, May, June
May was a great opportunity for our incoming interns to learn the value of collecting multiple forms of data! While we’re paving the way for large scale photomosaic monitoring at CRF™, we always conduct qualitative assessments whenever we take a photomosaic as an additional level of data collection.
CRF™ routinely tracks the health of outplanted corals through photomosaics. Photomosaics allow us to track multiple metrics including the survivorship, growth, and total area of coral tissue coverage. In June we completed a full year of monitoring on one of our Carysfort Reef South restoration areas—and the growth is extremely encouraging. At this particular restoration site, CRF ™ returned 726 staghorn colonies, representing an impressive total of 38.75 square feet (3.6 square meters) of live tissue. Finally at the 1-year interval 447 separate coral fragments remained, covering a total of 112 square feet (10.4 square meters) of ocean floor. This marks an 290% increase in coral tissue surface area coverage in just 1 year!
Coral tissue increases by 290% in just one year! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
You may have noticed that the photomosaic data from this restoration site shows a decline in number of coral fragments and thus a 62% survivorship after 1 year. But, this is not an accurate representation of the true survivorship of the corals...click here to read the full article and understand why!
July, August, September
Our Science Program is able to support multiple research studies throughout the year. One of these studies was with the Environmental Epigenetics Laboratory, led by Dr. Jose Eirin-Lopez at Florida International University, in collaboration with Ph.D. candidate Serena Hackerott. CRF™ provided three different genotypes of staghorn corals from our coral nurseries. Once harvested the coral samples were brought to Keys Marine Lab in Layton, Florida, where they were kept under various temperatures, and later outplanted onto the reef where the FIU team can continue monitoring their health—they’re still keeping up with them today!
The CRF™ science team spent weeks preparing for coral spawning in August by coordinating dive teams and dive boats, constructing gamete collection nets, and organizing potential gamete transfers with NOAA and SEZARC researchers. Finally, on August 13th, all the work and anticipation paid off: we witnessed our corals spawn both in our nurseries and at our restoration sites in the wild! Restored corals spawning on the reef is the first step to jumpstarting natural recovery and maintaining a genetically diverse ecosystem!
Elkhorn corals returned to the wild by CRF™ spawn on the reef in 2022! ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
October, November, December
In October, CRF™ sent samples of a boulder coral species,Orbicella annularis, to the Baums Lab at Penn State to establish the baseline for SNP genotyping! Through sequencing we learn important information about our corals that will help influence restoration techniques in the future. We gained knowledge on our corals’ genetic identity, phylogeny, and kinship! Genotyping also opens the door for potential future “coral swaps”and we can share the information via the Coral Sample Registry, and set up scientific collaborations with researchers interested in learning more about coral genetics!
Science Program Associate, Hayley, collects samples of Orbicella annularis to be sent to Pennsylvania State University. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
In November we looked back at Reef Futures! Reef Futures is a bi-annual conference hosted by the Coral Restoration Consortium (CRC) full of presentations, session talks, a poster symposium, and an assortment of workshops. Of the numerous events, a major highlight was the photomosaic workshop, guided by a team including Alex Neufeld of CRF’s science program. The workshop provided the opportunity for restoration practitioners to learn from each other and understand in meticulous detail the ins and outs of how to conduct and process photomosaics at home!
Photomosaic and Technology Coordinator Alex Neufeld leads a photomosaic workshop at Reef Futures 2022. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Lastly (but certainly not least-ly), CRF™ spent time this past December revisiting our SNP gene sequencing venture, but this time we sent out pillar coral samples for sequencing! Though putative genotyping estimates are widely accepted in the restoration community, establishing the tools and resources to sequence coral genomes is an exciting step forward for collaborative research and innovation within our field.
Samples of pillar coral are sent to FWC for sequencing! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
This year presented us with incredible opportunities, growth in various forms, and rapid developments in the science of coral reef restoration. It’s safe to say that we and our corals have plenty to look forward to in 2023! With rapid growth comes a need to adapt, and as our world continues to change around us it will continue to ask us for our help. Coral Restoration Foundation intends to answer with passion, science, and your help. Thank you for keeping up with us, and we look forward to continue making strides in science and the greater field of coral restoration together!
Coral Chronicles Editor
Madalen Howard is CRF's Communications and Outreach Coordinator. 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, marketing and digital communications.
With CRF™ Madalen creates inclusive pathways to scientific discovery through content creation and by building and fostering relationships with press, digital media creators, and local community members. Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature, and is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration.