When was the last time you thought about coral reefs?
Chances are, it’s not in the forefront of your mind. However, the Coral Reef Foundation (CRF) hopes to change that. At least a little.
Coral reefs are essential for a healthy ocean. Not only do they protect coastlines from damaging waves and provide homes for various marine life, they’re also the source of nitrogen and other necessary nutrients for food chains. Fishing industries depend on them because that’s where fish breed, and tourist industries flourish by bringing visitors to the reefs. An estimated 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life needs coral reefs simply to survive, let alone thrive.
Since the 1970s, coral reefs in the Florida Keys and Caribbean have declined dramatically. The two main species of coral, Staghorn and Elkhorn, have declined by an estimated 98 percent. Fortunately, organizations like the Coral Reef Foundation, based in Key Largo, Forida, are working hard to reverse the trend.
“There are a number of identified stressors that have contributed to the significant amount of loss we’ve seen over the decades,” Coral Restoration Foundation’s websites states. “The good news is that some of these stressors are manageable with hard work, care and awareness.”
So how is Coral Restoration Foundation doing this?
One of the main ways CRF helps is through its coral nurseries. The organization designed the Coral Tree Nursery®, a tree made of PVC pipe. Coral grows from branches of monofilament engineered to sway with the ocean’s natural wave motions.
CRF fosters the coral in the nurseries for six to nine months until it’s ready to be replanted in the ocean using a natural technique called fragmentation. Essentially, if a coral branch falls off the reef and the conditions in the ocean are favorable to growth, it can attach to a new location and start growing another coral colony.
“Tens of thousands of corals are produced through our pioneering propagation techniques and housed in multiple offshore coral tree nurseries,” the website states. “We currently have five offshore coral nurseries in the Florida Keys from Carysfort Reef to Key West and have implemented multiple in the Caribbean.”
Before any of the coral leaves the nursery, it’s tagged for its genetic information and later retagged so the organization can track the coral’s growth. Staff and volunteers often check the newly planted reefs for disease and deterioration. If any of the coral have fallen off their new home, they’re reattached to allow them to grow again, something that wouldn’t happen in natural circumstances.
The Coral Reef Foundation made history in 2012 when its leaders revealed the first-ever nursery-raised Elkhorn Coral restoration. Eighteen of these newly grown coral were planted on the Molasses Reef close to Key Largo, Florida.
CRF coordinators also are passionate about teaching the next generation about coral. They provide lesson plans, classroom activities, presentations and other guides to help teachers show the importance of coral to their classrooms. If you’re interested in bringing a CRF expert into the classroom but don’t have the funding to fly someone from the Florida Keys to your class, don’t worry. They regularly do Skype classroom sessions.
Want to learn more about the science behind what CRF is doing, or donate to the cause? Check out coralrestoration.org for more information.