Approximately 100 staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) fragments, each about the size of a basketball, will be transplanted off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida in an effort to restore reef habitat that has been damaged or destroyed by disease and other factors over the years, according to an article in the Sun Sentinel. The endeavor to move these frags from an onshore nursery to the ocean is the first experiment of its kind in a highly urbanized area and will be closely watched to see if growing corals in tanks onshore can be used successfuly to restore the reefs off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Having an onshore nursery gives you a repository, protected from whatever happens off shore, Abby Renegar of the National Coral Reef Institute in Dania Beach, and lead researcher, told the Sun Sentinel. For example, if there is an oil spill off Cuba and there is massive mortality of corals offshore, the corals grown onshore are still protected.
The researchers started with 500 two-inch staghorn frags that were culled from reef colonies off Broward County. The frags were cultivated over the last year in four 400-gallon tanks at the National Coral Reef Institute in Dania Beach. The researchers say the frags grow twice as fast in the tanks than in the wild.
A diseased reef a half mile off Fort Lauderdale will receive the first batch of frags cultivated onshore. Approximately 100 additional frags that were cultivated in an offshore colony will be added to the reef. Both types of frags will be studied to determine how the onshore cultivated corals compare with those corals cultivated in the ocean. The research is funded by $25,000 in state grants, the federal government, and donations from foundations.
Coral reefs are an important resource, not only to the fish and other marine organisms that rely on the reef for food and shelter, but to the people who live near the reefs. Richard Dodge, director of the Reef Institute estimates that the reef ecosystems in South Florida generate $7 billion a year due to tourism, diving, snorkeling, boating and fishing, in addition to 71,000 jobs.