Wild Grooved Brain Coral Spawning
Breaking news! Wild colonies of grooved brain coral were seen spawning in the ocean for the first time EVER in Florida! This was the culmination of a year's long collaborative effort between scientists at Coral Restoration Foundation™ and University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and its Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric studies. They have been working diligently for years to capture this moment, diving multiple nights in a row during predicted spawning periods, recording activity, and finally recording the event on camera!
Grooved brain coral moments before spawning. ©JD Reinbott/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Diploria labyrinthiformis, commonly, known as grooved brain coral, is known to spawn year-round as opposed to most coral species that only spawn once a year. This gives us the unique opportunity to witness such an event all year. Since November 2020, our science team has been consistently diving at night trying to observe grooved brain coral spawning After months of seeing nothing, everyone involved was ecstatic to finally witness such a monumental event!
A CRF™ scientist poses with a coral tent which captures coral gametes to be mixed with other parents and increase chances of fertilization! ©JD Reinbott/Coral Restoration Foundation
Volunteer Coordinator, JD Reinbott, says, “The spawning event was such an iconic moment for Diploria labyrinthiformis and is something I will truly never forget. Watching 18 of these corals spawn for the first time ever documented down here in the Keys gives me so much hope for the future of our reefs.” Well said, JD!
To read the full press release and more details about the event click here:
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.
As summer approaches and the water starts to warm, our divers all throw their thick wetsuits to the back of their closets. But summer doesn’t just mean less neoprene! Of the many stressor’s that could affect corals in the summer months, coral bleaching, rises to the top of our minds.
Science Program Manager Amelia Moura monitors corals for signs of bleaching among other factors. ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Coral bleaching is a stress response caused by several factors such as elevated water temperatures combined with sunlight. Corals have an ideal temperature range between 73 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit; bleaching can occur when water temperature falls outside of this range.
High water temperatures in the Florida Keys in summertime can cause corals to become stressed, like when humans have a fever. This stress causes the corals’ mutual relationship with algae living in their tissue to break down. The algae are expelled making the corals’ bright white skeleton visible through its transparent tissue, coining the term “bleaching.”
Left: Bleached elkhorn corals show their calcium carbonate skeleton through transparent tissue. Right: Healthy elhorn corals are golden brown in color. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Summer bleaching events can be devastating for corals, but our team works hard to anticipate this and set our corals up for success. Our Coral Tree™ design allows us to raise and lower our corals in the water column keeping them within their ideal range in our nurseries. We also monitor for bleaching making sure to distinguish between bleaching, disease, and new growth.
Bleaching will occur over the entire coral body and can be seen gradually in a process called paling. New growth is seen at growing tips of corals. It is bright white but is actually the new coral skeleton and tissue that has not yet bonded with algae. Disease can cause corals to appear white but often has a distinct line of infection where we can see some coral polyps are infected while others are healthy.
Staghorn corals returned to the reef by CRF™, the white tips are new growth and not bleaching! ©JD Reinbott/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Returning genetically diverse corals on a massive scale as we do, means that even with high mortality rates – for whatever reasons – we end up with large numbers of corals in places where they were previously absent. And we are not talking about small numbers of corals, but tens of thousands! Restoration is about hitting an ecological tipping point after which these species' natural processes of recovery can take over. This means returning a critical mass of corals to the wild. We saturate the reefs with corals knowing that not all will survive but many will, and these survivors will grow larger, fuse, and push us closer to that tipping point.
Welcome Elly, Science Program Intern
As spring turns to summer, our science team here at CRF™ is seeing some changes. We would like to give a warm welcome to our new Summer 2021 Science Program Intern, Elly Perez! Elly began working for CRF™ back in September of 2020 and has spent the past 8 months developing her skills as a scientific diver, coral restoration researcher, and even illustrating a educational children’s activity book! As the Science Program Intern, Elly is eager to learn everything she can about our cutting-edge monitoring techniques implemented by our science team in the past few years. She is extremely excited to spend her final months at CRF™ working directly with the science department! Hello, Elly!
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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
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.