Degraded coral reefs in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands will be the recipients of up to 10,000 cultured staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn corals (Acropora palmata) thanks to a project managed by The Nature Conservancy and administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “These two species of coral are the most important to the reef system – they are the girders and I-beams of reefs that provide critical fish habitat,” said James Byrne, marine biologist for The Nature Conservancy, which is overseeing the project.
Scientists began growing staghorn and elkhorn corals in 2009 with the goal of growing 12,000 coral colonies. More than 30,000 colonies were grown, with corals ranging in size from tennis balls to soccer balls. All 10,000 corals are slated to be transplanted before the end of 2012. Coral experts are hoping that these corals will thrive in their future locations, which have been chosen to enhance their chance of reproduction and genetic diversity. The two corals, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2006, have suffered due to hurricanes, disease and coral bleaching.
The project, the largest coral restoration of its kind in the United States, is one of 50 NOAA projects that received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The project is a partnership with NOAA, Mote Marine Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami RSMAS, the Coral Restoration Foundation and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Millions of people depend on these reefs for food, coastal protection and income from tourism,” said Samuel Rauch, NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “Restoring them is not only an environmental imperative, it’s a public priority.”