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"Talking Science" in October 2021 with the Coral Chronicles


Over the past few weeks, Coral Restoration Foundation™ interns and staff have been hard at work monitoring some of our one year old staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) outplants from one of our many monitoring sites on Carysfort Reef North and South.

Birdseye view of Carysfort Reef and it's iconic lighthouse. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

CRF™ consistently monitors the health of the corals we return to the reef using photomosaic technology. Our goal is to measure survivorship, coral growth, and coral cover at our restoration sites.

Monitoring is performed at three different time intervals. The first monitoring session begins at Time Zero, or the day that the corals are first attached to the substrate by our divers. Then we capture 2 more photomosaics by going back to our restoration sites at one month then one year after the original coral outplanting. By spreading out our monitoring days, we can compile accurate data on the status of our corals over a period of time.

Today we are sharing some inspiring news. We’ve pulled data from two of our Carysfort Reef restoration sites and the results are thrilling! In these two restoration sites CRF™ originally restored 8.4 square meters of staghorn coral and in just one year we saw a 170% increase in coral tissue. Those same corals have grown so much they now cover 22.7 square meters of seafloor!

In 2020 we documented 48,000 square meters of reef and saw an 143% average increase in coral tissue. Our team is overjoyed to see these hopeful results continue a trend of success in 2021.

Clusters of restored corals create vibrant patches of gold on Pickles Reef in the Florida Keys! ©Jess Levy/Coral Restoration Foundation™

This wouldn’t be a “Talking Science” article if we didn’t get into some nitty gritty data, so how exactly do we pull measurements of area from photomosaics? The answer is simple, scale bars!

We place scale bars on the reef while taking photomosaics to provide measurement metrics. Then on land, using computer software, each coral is manually traced by one of our team. Once tracing is finished another software system uses the scale bars to calculate the area of reef in total and the area of traced corals.

Now, let’s really get into the number crunching. For the data mentioned above (remember 170% increase in coral tissue!), we monitored 2 small restoration sites at Carysfort Reef North and South. At Carysfort Reef North we returned 986 corals covering 5.6 square meters of the ocean floor. At the one year mark, we recorded 713 corals still attached to the substrate and an increase in coral cover to 12.9 square meters of the sea floor. Moving down to Carysfort Reef South, we initially returned 415 corals covering 2.8 square meters of the sea floor. After one year, these corals numbered 409 and cover increased to 9.8 square meters.

You may have noticed that in both these sets of data the number of corals decreased, but the total coral tissue (size of live corals) increased. In our past monitoring methods the decline in number of corals would compute as 80% survivorship. It looks like 80% of the corals “survived” after one year, but this is not quite accurate and we will explain why in just a moment. What is clear to see is that we do in fact have more coral tissue, more structure, and more life on the reef!

From left to right these photos show the progression of tracing corals in photomosaics to measure area covered. ©Chandler Wright/Coral Restoration Foundation™

But a major question remains. How can we see fewer coral fragments but higher coral coverage? The answer is growth and fusion! As coral fragments grow, multiple fragments will fuse into one single coral. Sometimes, when data only looks at numbers of corals it appears as if corals are dying but the complete opposite is true, they are actually growing larger! This is a big benefit of our mosaic monitoring methodology, as we can now show just how large corals are becoming, not just the number of individuals that have survived.

Staghorn and Elkhorn Corals grow and fuse onto the reef. ©Jess Levy/Coral Restoration Foundation™

Now, growth and fusion are not the only reason the number of coral fragments is lower. Some of the coral fragments may have been crushed by anchors, blown off the reef by a storm, or kicked by an unknowing snorkeler. Coral mortality does happen, but what we must focus on and are ecstatic to share, is that despite some mortality the reef is covered in more coral tissue than it was one year ago!

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.





"Talking Science" Editorial Intern

Dana spent most of her childhood living on a sailboat with her family traversing the Pacific coast of Central and South America. She received her first scuba certification at age 10 in Costa Rica and has been an avid diver since. Living in such close proximity to the ocean fueled her passion for ocean conservation. She has since attended college at California State University, Long Beach graduating with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy.

Dana has had the amazing opportunity to visit so many countries and see some amazing ecosystems and cultures. It was through witnessing the ocean in all of these places, that she was able to see how much it was in need of protection. She believes that the only way to make people care about conservation is through education and outreach. Her hope is that through her work with CRF™, she can combine fieldwork and public education to fulfill this goal.

Coral Chronicles Editorial Intern

Tom is CRF's Communications Program Intern. Growing up in the arid Coachella Valley, Tom has been passionate about conservation his whole life. Tom didn’t start diving until after he took a conservation biology class and learned about the dismal state of coral reefs worldwide. He switched his major to marine biology and studied algal growth on degraded reefs as part of his marine research quarter in Moorea, French Polynesia. Tom began working for CRF™ back in January 2021 and has spent the past 8 months refining his skills as a coral restoration diver and branding the CRF™ YouTube Channel. He’s stoked to spend his last few months working with the Communications Department and is eager to learn as much as he can about marketing and science communication.


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.

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