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"Talking Science" in June 2021 with the Coral Chronicles

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

LARGE SCALE RESTORATION EXPERIMENT IN FLORIDA: THE FIRST OF ITS KIND

We are excited to announce our participation in the largest coordinated experimental out-planting effort in Florida to date! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came together with several coral reef restoration partners to study the effects of Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease on boulder corals.

©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™  

In a massive collaborative effort, 1,152 experimental boulder coral colonies were outplanted along Florida’s Coral Reef. Each colony consisted of 5 individuals, totaling a whopping 5,760 individual corals outplanted back on the reef! Of those 5,769, CRF™ provided 1,800 individual boulder corals across an array of genotypes.


Our Science Team was responsible for the outplanting and initial monitoring of 4 sites in the Upper Keys. These sites make up just one sixth of the 24 total sites making up the study. Over the course of 2 days, we outplanted 192 colonies of 3 different coral species including mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), knobby brain coral (Pseudodiploria clivosa) and great star coral (Montastrea cavernosa).

Left: Alex Neufeld/CRF™ Right: Tom Condon/CRF™


After more than a year of planning, our Science Program Manager, Amelia Moura, says, “We are very excited about this new research, it’s the first chance we have as a full restoration team to examine the long-term impacts of SCTLD on newly outplanted corals. The results of this outplanting experiment will help us all improve our restoration efforts such that they are more successful and impactful in the long term.”

You can learn more about this ground-breaking experiment by reading the full story here: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/2e3429b?fbclid=IwAR3utniXSmn_0vJM26rGktQNxar7FbT1M6-iUAtyw4pOF1qwKULy9aQ3rxs

 

MONITORING CORALS TO MAXIMIZE REEF HEALTH

Once corals are returned to the reef our work has just begun! We continue to monitor our transplanted corals' and overall ecosystem health over time. We look at as many details as we can to get an accurate understanding of how the reefs are faring.


Join us as we dive deeper into each parameter we measure throughout this series! We've covered algal competition, snail predation, fusion, and bleaching. Fish predation is yet another relationship we will explore today!


Fish Predation

As sessile animals, corals spend their lives fixed to the same place on the reef, making them especially vulnerable to predation. Predators are a natural part of a healthy coral reef, however an overabundance of fish predation can have a disproportionate effect on overall reef health.

©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™


Common corallivores, such as butterflyfish, parrotfish, and damselfish, naturally consume live coral tissue. Damselfish are known to mark off entire coral heads as their territory, protecting the coral from additional intruders but also using it as a food source. Parrotfish can be seen grazing on algae and corals alike!


©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

It is common for divers to witness fish predation. We often see damselfish pruning their algae gardens or parrotfish munching away on the reef! Evidence of fish predation on corals can be observed as tissue damage in the form of bite marks. New growth at the tips of corals can be easily mistaken as tissue damage. Our divers pay close attention to the state of the coral’s skeleton: if the skeleton is completely intact, it is most likely new growth, if the coral skeleton has scrapes or is broken, we are likely looking at fish predation. Examples of fish predation can be seen below!

©Amelia Moura/Coral Restoration Foundation™  

Fortunately for our reefs we've discovered a strategy to help restored corals overcome the pressure of hungry hungry fishes. By raising our corals in offshore nurseries, we bypass the most vulnerable, early life stage that wild coral recruits have a hard time surviving. Small coral colonies with just a few polyps have almost not chance of surviving a fish predation incident. Instead we give our corals time to grow large in our nursery, so when they make their return to the reef their colony is strong enough to handle fish bites!


 

A NEW WAVE OF MONITORING: BOULDER CORALS

In 2018, we began incorporating boulder corals into our restoration practice. The success of this program has allowed us to scale up our propagation of 2 species: Orbicella faveolata (mountainous star coral) and Orbicella annularis (boulder star coral). Serving as important reef stabilizers, the decline in the wild populations of both these species has given us even more reason to scale up our boulder coral restoration efforts.

Boulder Coral Trees in our Tavernier Nursery ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

Since returning our first boulder corals to the reef, our Science Team has been devising a plan to monitor them. We currently use photomosaics in a specific way to capture a birds-eye view of the reef. This top-down look works well to understand the total reef covered by staghorn and elkhorn corals. As these corals grow they expand into large thickets. Boulder coral however are different. They grow into huge domes and from a birds eye view appear as very small areas of coral. We require 3D modeling to capture the full area of boulder coral coverage.

As we venture into the idea of using 3D models, we are adapting the techniques used to take photomosaics. Instead of swimming across the entire reef we take photos of individual boulder coral colonies from the top, sides, and all around! All we need is 2 scale bars and a camera! These specific scale bars have targets on either end that are used by the stitching software to create an accurate model and set scale.

©Coral Restoration Foundation™

Before taking any photos, we place scale bars on either side of the cluster. Next, we get the camera out! Starting with the camera at ground level, the diver will continuously take photos while moving in a circle around the cluster. As the diver continues to circle around the coral, they move in an upward spiral until they are directly over the cluster. This gives us overlapping pictures at every possible angle, allowing the software to stitch a complete 3D model of each boulder cluster.

Now that our photomosaic is taken, what’s next? Keep an eye out for next month’s Talking Science to hear more about our journey with boulder coral monitoring!

 

JOIN OUR TEAM

 

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.


"Talking Science" Editorial Intern

Elly Perez

Despite growing up in the landlocked state of Indiana, Elly always seemed to find her way back to the ocean. With yearly trips to Vieques, an island municipality of Puerto Rico, she fell in love with the reefs and most of all, took notice of their continuous degradation year by year. This instilled in her a passion for ocean conservation that still continues todays. A recent graduate from Indiana University, she received her B.S. in Environmental Science and a certificate in Underwater Resource Management. Her involvement with and support from the Center for Underwater Science at Indiana University further established her passion for marine conservation and underwater science. Throughout her undergraduate she spent time diving abroad in the Dominican Republic, working as a research assistant, and in Indonesia, where she completed her divemaster while studying shark conservation. After graduating in 2019, she took a job working with the nesting loggerhead sea turtles along the Georgia Coast. While she thoroughly enjoyed this work, her heart was longing to return to the ocean! Elly is extremely excited to join the CRF team and do her part in the conservation of our reefs.


"Coral Chronicles" Editoral Intern

Tessa Markham is a recent graduate of Skidmore College, with a BA in English and

Environmental Studies. She grew up in Wilton, in southwestern Connecticut, but spent her summers growing up either hiking and camping in the woods or swimming and sailing on the water. She has always been passionate about climate change and conservation. Diving for the first time in 2014 while taking a marine conservation course in the Caribbean leeward islands, she quickly amassed dives and got her PADI Instructor certification just three years later. Just after completing her instructor training, she spent nearly a month on the Yucatan Peninsula conducting research on their reefs, looking at the ratio of soft versus stony coral death. She later channeled her distress at the degradation of the reefs to write a short story about coral bleaching, which was published in Volume 5 of the Oakland Arts Review in 2020. Her capstone thesis built on this theme and she wrote a collection of four creative short stories that detail and exemplify climate change-induced environmental damage through a narrative lens. She aims to combine her degrees and experiences to make a career in science communications, making research and conservation accessible to everybody.


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