Coral Restoration in the Florida Keys Using Colonies Derived from Aquacultured Fragments
   Ilze K. Berzins, The Florida Aquarium

Abstract: The Coral Reef Task Force estimates that 70% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened and 10% have been destroyed. Portions of Caribbean coral reefs have lost up to 80% of coral species and continue to be under increasingly destructive pressures from various sources including dredging, ship groundings, pollution, illegal collecting and harsh weather conditions. Florida coral reefs, the only shallow water reefs in the continental United States, have suffered considerable loss. Restoration of damaged coral sites is limited by the availability of coral colonies. Aquaculture is emerging as a viable method of large-scale production of coral colonies. Recent efforts have shown that many species of Atlantic Scleractinia can be fragmented and grown successfully in tanks and on underwater lease sites. Can these aquacultured fragments be utilized in reef restoration? Two primary questions emerge concerning the feasibility and direction of this effort: 1) will aquacultured corals become a vector for disease introduction when returned to a restoration site, and 2) are survival and growth success of reintroduced fragments affected by culture techniques? The Florida Aquarium, with partners from the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory (TAL) and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) began investigating these questions in 2005. The team cut 210 fragments from seven species (30 per species) of coral collected from the Truman Annex site in Key West Harbor, six listed as having greatest conservation need in the state’s Wildlife Strategy. The aquacultured corals (Siderastrea radians, Solenastrea bournoni, Montastrea annularis, Montastrea cavernosa, Diploria clivosa, Dichocoenia stokesii, and Stephanocoenia mechelinii) were distributed to two land-based culture locations (TAL and Mote Marine) and to the field restoration site (Miss Beholdin grounding site, Western Sambo Reef). The team made regular measurements of the growth and observations of the health of coral in both environments. In an attempt to support visual observations and to provide a library of normal vs. abnormal changes, histology and microbiological tests have been applied to many of the samples. The land-based study fragments were grown in culture for approximately six months prior to transplantation in the field. To ensure that cultured fragments do not become a vector for disease in the wild, The Florida Aquarium and the TAL developed a protocol for a federal and state health certificate of coral fragments with guidance from the FKNMS and others. The certification process was approved through Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and a Special Activity License was issued permitting the transplantation of health fragments back into the wild. In December 2006, the team transplanted 88 fragments (out of 140) that had passed health certification or were not used for diagnostic sampling to the restoration site. Monitoring was to have continued at three month intervals but due to inclement weather, the team was unable to inspect the fragments until the first week of May 2007. The final evaluation period for this grant took place July 29th, 2007. Sampling included health assessments, photographs, and mucus sampling for microbial community analysis on select fragments.Of the seven species cultured, Siderastrea radians appeared to exhibit the best success both in culture and field conditions, and fragmented corals given time to “heal” from the cutting process in land-based culture situations seem to be doing better than fragments put immediately into the field. Use of aquacultured corals appears to be one viable solution to helping restore damaged reefs.

Award Matching Funds Total
$19,399.00 $19,399.00 $38,798.00

Year Funded Starting Date Ending Date
2004 7/1/2005 9/30/2007

Location: Monroe County

Final report