Please select your home edition
Edition
Leaderboard 1 August

Cultivating more resilient corals

by NOAA Fisheries 12 Dec 2021 20:59 UTC
Coral recruits from 2021 spawning (mountainous star coral, Orbicella faveolata; staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis; elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata) © NOAA Fisheries / Allan Bright (Permit: FKNMS-2018-163-A1)

In the wild, corals are threatened by changing ocean conditions and stressors associated with coastal population growth, such as nutrient pollution and sedimentation.

Scientists know that certain changes, such as warming ocean temperatures, threaten corals more than others. Trying to determine how and why some corals can survive these stressors is more challenging.

Scientists at NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center partnered with the University of Miami to build a coral cultivation and research facility. The facility will help improve our ability to restore corals on Florida reefs. Being able to control variables like temperature, light, and salinity will enable scientists to get a better understanding what factors contribute to more resilient corals.

Raising corals

Our Coral Research and Assessment Lab (CoRAL) team built a series of three indoor seawater systems at the University of Miami Experimental Hatchery on Key Biscayne. This workspace represents a major improvement in our capabilities to address numerous knowledge gaps and advance methods to restore resilient coral populations. Having these systems allows for new and longer term research that was previously impossible.

The first step in the system is a space to facilitate larval settlement and rear young corals, or "recruits." Then we need a space for the corals to grow. For that, we have a set of large tanks with flow-through seawater that can support hundreds to thousands of corals at multiple life stages (i.e. recruits, juveniles, adults). Both of these systems are temperature controlled and are fed by filtered and UV-sterilized seawater. This decreases the likelihood of accidentally introducing disease or other unwanted organisms.

To complement these coral propagation systems, the CoRAL team is building an experimental array of 30 20-gallon aquaria. We will use these to conduct experiments using corals and reef-associated organisms, such as fish, crabs, and urchins. In these tanks, we will be able to manipulate temperature, light, and water flow.

Access to corals and aquariums that can house corals is often the limiting factor for conducting research on coral species. For example, in the past, we would rent space for 1-2 months during peak spawning time and collect gametes. We would conduct short-term (days to weeks long) experiments in temporary systems and share the majority of larvae with partners. We could only keep coral recruits for 1-2 months.

The ability to rear corals produced from our coral spawning operations allows us to identify resilient individuals and restore genotypically diverse populations. This is a primary goal of contemporary coral restoration efforts. The experimental tank system also increases the quality and quantity of research we are able to conduct. It also allows our team to better address urgent questions about threatened coral species and coral reef restoration.

Reaping what we've sown

In just six months, we are already rearing thousands of recruits from seven different coral species. They include several Endangered Species Act-listed coral species such as elkhorn, staghorn, and mountainous star coral.

In addition to these recruits, we have shared hundreds of thousands of larvae from our spawning collections with partners to support research and restoration. Partners include:

  • University of Miami
  • SECORE International
  • Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Smithsonian Marine Station
  • Florida Aquarium
  • NOVA Southeastern
  • University of Southern California

The CoRAL team is primarily funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Related Articles

Learn more about Alaska's deep-sea corals
Observations during this survey in the Gulf of Alaska During our most recent dive we encountered more interesting deep sea creatures whose relationships with each other create the deep sea ecosystems of the Gulf of Alaska. Posted today at 6:37 pm
Survivor Vaquita porpoises
Escaping extinction longer than expected, but deadly fishing is on the increase At least seven to eight remain but deadly fishing is on the increase. Projections previously indicated that the critically endangered vaquita could be extinct by now. Posted on 6 Aug
Oyster Reef habitat restoration
Scientists in coastal Georgia have been looking to further protect their shorelines Two projects assisting oyster reef habitat restoration that will protect Georgia's saltwater marshes and coastline. Posted on 2 Aug
Alaska deep-sea coral survey leg 1 findings
Completing 125 drop camera deployments On Leg 1 we completed 125 drop camera deployments and made 248 eDNA collections. We made observations across a wide range of habitats, from inshore protected waters down to almost 800 m along the continental shelf and upper slope. Posted on 26 Jul
Mission accomplished for RP92's rescue rangers
NOAA Fisheries and partners returned endangered Hawaiian monk seal RP92 to Kalaupapa NOAA Fisheries and partners returned endangered Hawaiian monk seal RP92 to Kalaupapa, Moloka?i, on July 8, 2022. The seal was released after life-saving intervention to remove an ingested fishing hook. Posted on 23 Jul
NOAA Fisheries to review critical habitat
For rare large whale species in Alaska Agency announces a positive 90-day finding on a petition to expand North Pacific right whale critical habitat; seeks public comment. Posted on 19 Jul
Learn more about Alaska's sea corals and species
Sean Rooney shares his observations as coral survey team heads to the U.S. - Canada border For the past several days we have been leapfrogging from station to station as we head to the U.S. - Canada border in Dixon Entrance. During the day, we deploy the drop camera and at night we make long runs with the vessel to cover ground. Posted on 11 Jul
Size matters: Examining the effect of body size
On birth rates in North Atlantic right whales Today, fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remain. Impacts from human activities, such as entanglement from fishing gear and collisions with vessels, are the greatest dangers to these whales. Posted on 9 Jul
A dolphin is safely out of harm's way
After an early morning rescue off Texas NOAA partners—the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Texas State Aquarium, and SeaWorld San Antonio—rescued a habituated dolphin with injuries off North Padre Island, Texas. Posted on 7 Jul
NOAA releases 85 Florida loggerhead sea turtles
Juvenile sea turtles returned to the wild after study to reduce bycatch NOAA Fisheries scientists and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released 85 loggerhead sea turtles into the ocean off Florida's east coast. Posted on 27 Jun
Crewsaver 2021 Safetyline FOOTERNorth Sails 2021 Innovation - FOOTERStoneways Marine 2021 - FOOTER