This morning, while talking about coral restoration with a non diver, questions came up that I want to answer.

Are corals individuals or groups?

Corals are colonies of individual animals that live together in light and nutrient filled waters, in an area that runs primarily around the midsection of our planet. Reefs are collections of species and colonies of corals, and a healthy marine ecosystem is built on reefs.

colony of staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, in the wild

When marine biologists talk about coral die off what do they mean? 

When conditions get too warm or acidic for corals, they bleach, expelling their zooxanthellae partners that live in the coral polyps and give them nutrients and color. The corals are being destroyed by climate change and ocean acidification across the globe, in some places individual coral colonies or thickets are bleached and dead, in other areas, such as The Great Barrier Reef, 50% of all the coral cover is dead. Since 2007 worldwide, coral reefs have declined by 14%. When colonies of hard, reef-building corals die, there is less coral to protect coastlines from surging seas and rising water levels. 35% of fish species end up homeless. Dead reefs and lack of fish result in food insecurities, and cause economic hardship for the coastal people dependent on those ecosystems for their food and livelihood. Reefs also play a critical role in oxygen levels across the blue planet we call home.

What can be done?

One thing is that coral colonies can be propagated with restoration, let me explain. 

Organizations and marine biologists across the globe are working to study species of corals that survive climate change, and are finding ways and places to regrow hard, reef-building corals. Megan Beazley, a marine biologist with a love of coral and people, uses her science background as the coordinator of Reef Renewal Curaçao (RRC), to grow and outplant thousands of coral fragments.

How do scientists restore the corals?

  1. Fragments (frags) of healthy, hard corals, 4-5” in size, are snipped with pliers from native coral colonies such as staghorn, Acropora cervicornis and elkhorn, Acropora palmata
  1. The frags are taken to underwater ‘trees,’ made of pvc pipe, and are suspended in shallow waters, rich in nutrients and light– about 25’-50’ deep
  1. The frags are attached to the trees using nylon filament and crimps, where they hang suspended in the water column and quickly grow to viable size: 14” -18”
  1. These viable corals are out planted directly onto rocky substrates or onto bamboo structures, or frames, where the frags will eventually overgrow the support structure and become a thicket of coral, and a collection of thickets create a reef

Restoration affords corals the opportunity to grow more quickly in ideal conditions than they would naturally. When you consider that reefs, like those found in the Caribbean, have taken 4-5,000 years to form and less than 30 years to be 98% destroyed, you realize the work can’t be done fast enough to cover the losses. While native colonies survive, it is paramount to save those corals by creating nurseries where they can grow and reproduce.

coral thicket growing, Curaçao

Though thousands of coral fragments have been outplanted, the coming year and decade likely offer the LAST chance for international, national, and local entities to change the trajectory of coral reefs. They are facing multiple local and global threats and are increasingly impaired in their capacity to recover from the impacts. Scientists including Megan, are studying the corals, protecting, regrowing and inspiring the local and international community to improve, sustain and restore their marine environment. Megan believes there is still hope for reefs and she is working to save the world, one coral fragment at a time., to learn more about her work and to donate, check out RRC Thank you Megan Beazley!

Questions? Comments? Please share below.