Aquarius Coral Restoration/Resilience Experiments (ACRRE)

staghorn coral transplant
Newly transplanted staghorn coral
Photo Credit: SEFSC

Montastraea spp. coral fragments
Aquanaut epoxying a plot of Montastraea spp. coral fragments to the reef
Photo Credit: SEFSC

In recent years, as the capacity to culture corals and the availability of "rescued" corals has grown, there is interest in utilizing available corals over a wider range of proactive transplant and restocking applications. However, very little is known about the underlying biological reasons why one coral may thrive when transplanted to a reef while another may sicken and/or die nor about the potential health or genetic risks posed by restocking reef coral populations from "foreign" or cultured sources. ACRRE is testing the performance of differently-sourced corals in a long term transplant experiment and examining potential impacts between "foreign" and "local" transplants. Coral fragments of two species from different sources, including wild colonies from nearby reefs, rescued corals from distant reefs, and corals that have been cultured in aquaria or field nurseries were transplanted in June 2008 to a reef near the Aquarius Reef Base and an adjacent shallow site and a range of ecological and physiological performance parameters are being assessed. Companion experiments have focused on dynamics of corallivores (snails and fireworms) and disease as they have been the primary sources of mortality observed in coral transplants. Experiments during 2010 focused on discerning potential disease transmission among coral transplants by fireworms.

Both staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and mounding star (Montastraea faveolata) coral transplants and from several sources have suffered significant mortality at the Aquarius site, while different groups have performed well at a nearby shallower site. No difference in survival has occurred, however, between fragments that were transplanted among other transplants from the same source, versus those that were transplanted amongst corals from distant sources. Mechanistic insights should result from further analyses of interactions among coral host genotypes, the diversity of their microbial communities, the photosynthetic performance of their symbionts and gene expression of the host. Specific recommendations/outcomes emerging for designing coral transplants:

Emerging results and recommendations from this study are being implemented in the outplanting phases of NOAAs ARRA (Recovery Act) staghorn coral field nursery project, which is culturing coral in seven field nurseries dispersed along south Florida and the US Virgin Islands.

This project is sponsored by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Aquarius Reef Baseexit arrow icon

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