"Talking Science" in June 2020 with the Coral Chronicles

NEW FINDINGS IN THE WORLD OF CORAL RESTORATION


The Florida Keys used to be home to one of the world’s most beautiful barrier reefs, abundant with many species of coral such as brain, boulder, pillar, and branching corals. Things started to change in the 1970s when many factors impacting the health of the reef ripped through this ecosystem, including widespread disease, coral bleaching events, pollution, and predation.


This continued throughout the next 40-50 years, continuously degrading the reef. A majority of the coral that divers and snorkelers traveled across the globe to see were gone. Dead. Some areas on the Florida Reef Tract now only have approximately 2% coral cover, making the native coral species critically endangered. The population of coral has become so low that these organisms can no longer depend on their own sexual reproduction to offset the population decline. This is why CRF exists: to help save this ecosystem and prevent the extinction of our corals.


Thicket of staghorn coral outplants. © Coral Restoration Foundation™


Some big questions that are often asked are: "Is our work actually making a difference?" and "Are the coral populations getting the help they need?". Dr. Matthew Ware, a researcher in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University, investigated survivorship, growth, and the condition of 2,419 colonies outplanted by Coral Restoration Foundation™ from 2007-2015 using photogrammetric analysis and in-situ monitoring.


This paper, titled Survivorship and growth in staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) outplanting projects in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of its kind to research the long term survival of outplanted coral colonies. Dr. Ware’s model determined that survivorship of corals after 7 years averaged between 0-10%. That’s not exactly stellar, but it highlights some important and interesting issues.



Not only does this percentage range bring attention to the fact that it is going to take more than sheer outplant numbers for the reef ecosystem to be restored, it shines a light on how CRF™ methodologies in reef restoration are on the right track.


With Mission: Iconic Reefs, the long term plan for restoring the Florida Reef Tract, coral restoration has a solid operating plan. This plan gives 97 million dollars towards restoration over the next 25 years. And although this is a seemingly hefty budget, it doesn't come close to coral reef’s global estimated value of $9.9 trillion (yes... trillion with a “T”).


Given that this ecosystem provides so many services for people and is the backbone of the local economy, the investment is well worth it. Since this study, CRF™ has adapted its outplant strategy to target fewer reefs with drastically larger clusters of coral. This style of outplanting can be the key to preserving the population of coral in the Keys while larger issues, such as climate change, are mitigated.


CRF™ Science Program Manager Amelia Moura (top middle) leads a discussion panel featuring Steven Miller, William Precht, Scott Winters, Mathew Ware, Les Kaufman (from left to right).


Hear the experts that helped put together this paper, including lead author Dr. Matthew Ware and CRF™ CEO Scott Winters, discuss the paper’s focus and other restoration topics at Coralpalooza™ Digital 2020. Our virtual event platform is open through August 25, 2020. It's free for everyone to register and access the can't-miss content!


Register to access the event platform here. Or access the full paper here.


INTERN MONITORING TRAINING


Our summer 2020 interns have completed their first month of the internship session and finally finished up their training dives which was rounded off with some monitoring training. Led by Volunteer and Dive Program Coordinator Roxane Boonstra, Science Program Manager Amelia Moura, and Science Program Intern Krista Laforest, our newest interns learned what a day of monitoring dives entails.


Chris Reynolds and a curious smooth trunkfish recording data on the monitoring sheet.

© Amelia Moura/Coral Restoration Foundation™


“While we have begun to transition to photomosaics to monitor large scale changes on our restoration sites, we are finishing up with our traditional method of monitoring for our previous NOAA grant. Our first round interns began at an interesting time in which they have the opportunity to learn both monitoring methods. They were really enthusiastic about their first monitoring trip, and it built camaraderie to have everyone assessing the health of our outplants together!” said Krista Laforest, CRF™ Science Program Intern.

CRF™ Interns Aliah, Bailey, Charis, Chris, Katie, and Sydney monitored a NOAA transect comprised of one-year-old elkhorn outplants at North Dry Rocks. They found that many of the elkhorn outplants have begun to show fusion and have little evidence of competitors!


“Having grown up in the Florida Keys, seeing a beautiful reefscape and colonies of big healthy coral is eye popping. It’s awesome seeing urchins grazing algae on the reef again, helping this ecosystem restore,” said CRF™ Intern Sydney Gallagher.

In addition to monitoring for the first time, our interns got to see with their own eyes some evidence of the positive change that CRF’s outplanting has done for the ecosystem. Some key invertebrates were spotted throughout the dives including long-spined sea urchins and brown-footed snails. These species are encouraging to see on the reefs because the sea urchins graze on turf algae and brown-footed snails feed on corallivorous snails, reducing competition and predation respectively.


CRF™ Intern Sydney Gallagher recording data on the monitoring sheet for a colony of elkhorn coral. © Krista Laforest/Coral Restoration Foundation™


“As we move toward ecosystem level restoration, it is really encouraging to see that after just one year of living on the reef, we are seeing positive results! The restoration and monitoring team is excited to see how monitoring data will differ as we move to outplanting larger clusters as we ramp up our efforts to meet the goals of Mission: Iconic Reefs,” said Krista Laforest, CRF™ Science Program Intern.

A BIG WELCOME TO OUR NEW SCIENCE PROGRAM INTERN


It’s summertime, and a new semester at CRF™, which means we have lots of new faces in our intern team. But we also welcomed back some familiar faces who are moving up in the organization. One of which is our new Summer 2020 Science Program Intern. Put your fins together for Krista Laforest! Krista has been with CRF™ for 8 months now, starting in September 2019 with her first round internship, then becoming our Key West Fellow in January 2020.


Krista Laforest, CRF™ Summer 2020 Science Program Intern.


“For me, science is the sweet spot of active participation underwater while also looking at the numbers to inform restoration about ways to improve upon outplanting methods to ensure the success of our corals. This is a critical time for CRF™ as we begin to think at the ecosystem level for Mission: Iconic Reefs. Understanding the optimal location of an outplant and size of corals needed for each species for survival will allow us to increase our impact on our eight reef sites,” said Krista, CRF™ Science Program Intern.

Krista has a full petri dish this summer, and will be hard at work on some key projects on land and in the water. Recently, Krista has played an active role in managing the monitoring calendar and leading monitoring dive trips with interns, and managing the pillar corals in our nursery. Krista continues:


“I have worked closely with our Science Program Manager, Amelia, throughout my time at CRF™ because of my intern project with the pillar corals. Our similar work styles assured me that we would be able to meet our department goals for this summer while also allowing me to explore my passion and develop skills both in the field and on land!

While in the office, she has been crunching numbers, analyzing data and making visualizations to express the data in addition to learning and assisting on photomosaic execution and analysis.


Krista placing pillar coral onto trays to be hung on coral trees in the Nursery.

© Coral Restoration Foundation™


However important and valuable computers and data analyses are, Krista has one project in particular that she is extremely excited about: spawning season. Once per year, under the bright full moon in August, stony corals release thousands of gametes into the water column at the exact same time.

“I am most looking forward to the spawning season and working with our collaborators to cultivate the next generation of truly natural corals. This is something that most people don’t get to witness. It would be really special to see the efforts of our restoration validated and, on a more personal note, a poetic ending to my time as an intern at CRF™,” said Krista.

We’re super excited for what’s to come for Krista this summer! Don't miss next month's edition of Talking Science - we'll be sharing the latest updates in the world of restoration science.


KEEP CELEBRATING WITH US!


Did you miss Coralpalooza™ on June 6? Fret not! All of the exciting interviews, videos, and activities will be available through August 25, 2020! Register to access exclusive content from CRF™ and our event partners.


If you participated live and just couldn't get enough, click here to revisit Coralpalooza™ any time until August 25, 2020.


"Talking Science" Editorial Intern

Andrew was raised in West Palm Beach, Florida and spent many hours in the Atlantic Ocean swimming

and snorkeling as a child. He graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and minors in biology and mathematics. In school, he researched marine gastropods and conducted sea turtle tagging

surveys. After graduating, Andrew wanted to dive

(no pun intended) into the world of marine conservation and do something to make a tangible difference for the ocean. After completing 50 dives

in the Upper Keys and witnessing ghastly coral graveyards, struggling ecosystems, and degraded portions of the Florida Barrier Reef, Andrew was inspired to apply to CRF™ to actively help restore our beloved marine ecosystem. He is super excited to join the CRF™ family and learn a variety of skills both above and below the surface. In his spare time, Andrew loves playing any and all sports and watching Marvel movies on repeat.

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