IMMENSE CORAL GROWTH IN JUST ONE YEAR!
Today, we are able to share the progress and success our corals have had on one of our restoration sites with data collected from our photomosaics! For those of you who don’t know, we use photomosaic technology to monitor the corals we return to the reefs. Photomosaics are an incredible (and decently affordable) tool that increase our monitoring efficiency and allow us to create what are essentially before and after photos of the entire reef landscape as we work to restore the habitats!
In 2021 we generated 148 photomosaics documenting 61,000 square meters of reef and saw a 51% average annual increase in coral coverage across all our restoration sites. Check out our previous article that goes into detail on our 2020 and 2021 numbers!
The entire CRF™ staff is trained to capture photomosaic data for every restoration area where we work! ©AlexanderNeufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
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. We take photomosaics at four different time intervals: Baseline, Time-0, 1-Month and 1-Year. Baseline mosaics are taken before outplanting occurs, to show the total change in habitat before and after restoration effort. Time-0 mosaics are captured the day that corals are returned to the reef by our divers. We then return to these corals at 1-month and 1-year after outplanting to capture additional mosaics that provide holistic data on the health of our corals over a period of one year with the potential to revisit any area for future long-term monitoring!
One of the largest photomosaic areas CRF™ has mapped encompasses the entirety of North Dry Rocks Reef in Key Largo, FL. ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
We recently completed 1-year monitoring on one of our Carysfort Reef South restoration areas and the growth is extremely encouraging. At this particular restoration area, CRF ™ returned 726 staghorn colonies, representing an impressive total of 38.75 square feet (3.6 square meters) of live tissue. For this particular area we took a 3-month photomosaic instead of a 1-month in accordance with the grant guidelines set out for the area. At 3-months, photomosaic data showed 688 separate coral fragments remaining which gives us a survivorship of 95%.
This screenshot of a time zero photomosaic at Carysfort Reef South shows CRF™ outplants the day they are placed on the reef. Here the living coral tissue covers 3.6 square meters. @Coral Restoration Foundation™
While this survivorship metric is encouraging, we are more excited that area of coral tissue coverage increased to 67.81 square feet (6.3 square meters). That is a 75% increase of coverage in just 3-months! 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!
This screenshot of the same location on Carysfort Reef South on year later shows a 290% increase in coral cover. ©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 because not all of these coral fragments have died, rather they have fused from many fragments into one colony!
As coral colonies grow, colonies of genetic similarity will grow together and fuse into one coral colony over time. While it may appear through survivorship data alone that we are losing coral colonies, it is actually the opposite, the corals are growing larger and fusing! One of the big benefits to our photomosaic methodology is that we can gather multiple data metrics to create a more holistic and accurate view of reef health, including the surface area of living coral tissue in a given area. These data more accurately represent the growth of our corals over time!
CRF™ corals thriving on horseshoe reef starting at the day of outplanting and showing just under two years of growth. ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Mortality does happen. It is a standard part of all restoration work on land and at sea, and restoration practitioners expect some degree of mortality no matter what.
"To place these [survivorship] values in context within the broader restoration ecology field... in terrestrial ecological restoration...outplant success tends to fall below 50%. Further, a recent review of marine coastal habitat restoration in Australia highlighted that restoration in many marine ecosystems often report average survival of less than half of outplanted individuals. For example, 60% of seagrass restoration projects report <25% survival of seedlings."
What we must focus on in the restoration community is an understanding that despite inevitable mortality the overall coral populations returned to the wild are surviving and growing! We are ecstatic to share, is that the reef is covered in more coral tissue than it was one year ago. Remember in the area reported upon for this article specifically we saw a 290% increase in coral tissue cover from 38.75 square feet to 112 square feet (3.6 square meters to 10.4 square meters). We are hopeful that as we continue to analyze all of our photomosaic data we will continue to see these positive increases on the reef!
Our Science Team is incredibly happy to report data that inspires hope for our coral reefs worldwide. As CRF™ continues to scale up our restoration efforts and restore larger areas of reef, habitat level monitoring through photomosaics will become an essential technique, needed to understand the ecosystem wide impact restoration can have.
CRF™ corals after ~4 years of growth on Carysfort Reef ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
"Talking Science" Editorial Intern
Adrian Cheh became interested in the marine world after scuba diving for the first time before his freshman year of college. During his time at UCLA, Adrian was involved in research on the ecological impact of invasive kelp on ecosystem function on the SoCal coast, damselfish anti-predator behavior in coral reefs, and the interaction between macroalgae and turf algae on coral reefs in French Polynesia. With CRF Adrian is excited to learn more about restoration and conservation practices in the field while also engaging in public education and outreach.
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, and communications.
Madalen spent the 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. There 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.