SPAWNING SUSPENSE: TRACKING BRAIN CORAL SPAWNING
We had a very successful spawning season here at CRF™. We recorded staghorn coral in our nurseries and coral outplants on the reef spawning multiple nights in a row! We’re still tracking spawning throughout the Keys as our team waits for natural colonies of brain coral to spawn.
The species Diploria labyrinthiformis, commonly known as grooved brain coral, typically spawns anytime between May and November. To continue tracking their spawning progress, our team has been accompanying Dana Williams, Ph.D., an associate scientist at NOAA, for the past two months with the hopes of seeing these brain corals spawn.
A natural colony of brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis) the CRF™ team observed during spawning. © Shane Gallimore/Coral Restoration Foundation™
This unique brain coral species has a very large spawning window, unlike our familiar Acroporids. The grooved brain coral has been observed spawning from May until November in parts of the Caribbean. Specific colonies of these corals can spawn either in the spring or fall, so we have been going out to observe them since May and will continue to do so until the end of the known spawning window.
These corals have a fairly consistent spawning schedule, with spawning happening between the tenth and twelfth day after the full moon. On these nights, we go out and tent colonies (similar to what we did in our own nursery for staghorn spawning), so if the corals do spawn, we can collect the gametes and send them to the University of Miami to settle and grow!
Tented D. lab colonies during spawning. © Shane Gallimore/Coral Restoration Foundation™
If we're able to witness this event, it will be the first recorded event of wild grooved brain coral spawning in the Florida Keys! Other locations throughout the Caribbean, such as Curaçao, already have extensive records of grooved brain coral spawning. In the Florida Keys, a database like this does not yet exist, so we are hoping to witness the spawning and begin creating our own records. Keep your fingers crossed!
MOSAIC MASTER: COMPLETING ONE YEAR OF PHOTOMOSAICS
As our 2020 outplanting season comes to a close, we have a lot to celebrate! Aside from the number of corals we outplanted onto the reef this year given the challenges we faced, we also completed our first full year of monitoring our outplant sites with photomosaics.
In the past few years, our monitoring process has been quite involved. Before we transitioned to outplanting large clusters of 50 corals, we outplanted clusters of seven to 10 corals with individual tags for genotypic identification. When it came time to monitor these smaller clusters, it would take six team members anywhere from six to eight hours on the boat to monitor corals at a single site using waterproof data sheets.
When we transitioned over to outplanting large clusters of 50+ corals, our Science Department knew that in-water monitoring would become more of a challenge, so we decided to switch over to photomosaics as our new monitoring method.
CRF™ Science Program Manager Amelia Moura monitors corals using a monitoring data sheet. © Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Photomosaics offer more than just monitoring data. We're also able to physically watch the topography of the reef change with every photomosaic we take! We shoot and create 4 photomosaics at each outplant site over the course of one year in order to see the positive change on the reef.
Initially, we take what is called a “baseline” mosaic. This is taken before any outplanting has occurred at a site, and we use it as our “before” image of the reef. Following that, we take a “Time-0” photomosaic, which is done immediately after outplanting is completed. These mosaics show a lot of smaller, individual corals spread across the entire outplanting site. We then take 2 more mosaics, one at one-month post-outplanting and another at one-year post-outplanting, to see the outplants’ overall survival and possible sources of predation or competition.
A photomosaic used to monitor the reef. © Alexander Neufeld /Coral Restoration Foundation™
What used to take almost an entire day to complete at just ONE site now takes us only about half hour to complete per site, meaning we can monitor multiple sites in one day! This gives us much more time to process and analyze our monitoring data and look for areas where we can improve.
This year, we took a record number of 94 mosaics across all of our sites and species, and completed our NOAA photomosaic requirements!
"Talking Science" Editorial Team
Ellen graduated with a B.S. in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior from Rutgers University in 2017. Growing up in New Jersey, her summers were largely spent boogie-boarding and building sand castles at the Jersey shore. It was her first Discover Scuba in Bermuda at the age of 13, however, that sparked her passion for coral reefs and diving. During her undergrad at Rutgers she took part in a study abroad program in Little Cayman, where she monitored the bleaching severity of corals around the island and had her first coral nursery and outplanting experience. It was here that she learned about Coral Restoration Foundation™, and it quickly became her dream to be a part of the CRF™ team. Recently, she completed her divemaster certification and is absolutely ecstatic about joining the CRF™ team in beautiful Key Largo. She is excited to do her part to restore this amazing ecosystem and hopes to inspire others to protect and conserve it for generations to come.