Featured Image Credit: Smithsonian
By Meghan Koenig
Coral reefs are in trouble. We’ve all heard this by now.
According to a publication by Reefs at Risk Revisited in 2011, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by a large combination of stressors. Bleaching, overfishing, and warming waters are only just a few of the maladies these unique and precious environments face today.
Recently, however, a new technique for coral reef restoration has surfaced and we can finally hope for a turnaround of the degradation of coral reef environments.
Coral reef farming, also known as coral aquaculture, is quickly being acknowledged as the best solution for habitat rebuilding of many unique species and for reducing the pressure on the reefs and reef organisms that overfishing has caused.
Source: ©U of Miami/RSMAS
One way that coral can be farmed is through small-scale, ocean-based restoration projects like the one shown in the above picture. For one, ocean-based farming is cheaper. It’s also best for restoring fast growing species such as the branching Elkhorn and Staghorn corals – the first corals to be placed under protection of the Endangered Species Act in 2006.
The farming process begins with retrieving fragments of coral from the parent colony in the natural reef. They might use tools such as clippers, like in the picture below, to harvest the fragments of coral and then they use nails and epoxy or cement to attach them to the nursery blocks that the fragments will grow on.
Source: ©U of Miami/RSMAS
However, despite the lower cost of the ocean-based restoration projects, they are not effective enough for slower growing species.
Another way to farm coral is through larger land-based operations. Coral Vita, for instance, is a facility that farms coral on land by retrieving small fragments of species from the ocean and growing them in the farm under sunlight and constant seawater flow.
In these larger operations, the coral is grown via microfragmenting, in which they speed up the growth of slower growing species up to 50 times their natural growth rates and can, therefore, farm a much higher diversity of species much faster.
Another benefit to this method is that they can provide assisted evolution to the species of coral they farm. This way they can increase resiliency in coral species in order to help the corals withstand the constantly changing conditions in the ocean that have caused their alarming decline.
Photo credit: Coral Vita
In the image above, the Mote Marine Laboratory grew this brain coral specimen in a matter of months when it usually take decades to naturally reach the same size.
After the corals are grown they are replanted by divers on a degraded reef. These will continue to grow and create a new foundation for the reef to make a comeback and keep sheltering all those beautiful reef species we love so much.