Threatened Coral Recovery in Florida and the US Virgin Islands
Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), this project is a regional effort aimed at aiding in the recovery of populations of threatened acroporid coral, which has experienced widespread and catastrophic declines since the late 1970’s. An important reef-builder, acroporid corals have relatively fast growth rates and can be easily propagated. This project will help to restore natural acroporid communities through the maintenance and establishment of nurseries on reefs in Florida and the USVI. Nurseries will be maintained or established within eight distinct subregions (see map below), with the purpose of propagating the species and creating as many new colonies as feasible given limits on resources. Nursery-reared corals will then be transplanted out onto reefs that are known to have supported acroporid communities, with the hope that these corals will contribute to the reseeding of natural reefs.
In recent decades, there have been significant declines in the populations of the important reef building staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis. To reverse this trend, a Staghorn Restoration Project which focused on restoring degraded reefs in the Upper Florida Keys was initiated through funding from the TNC-NOAA Community-based Restoration Program (CRP). At the center of this project was a partnership with a privately-owned and permitted live rock farm site within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where genotypically unique coral fragments of naturally occurring staghorn coral have been propagated since 2000. Clones of these parent colonies were then outplanted to selected sites located within unique cross shelf zones within the upper Keys sub-region, each with differences in water quality, community structure, and functional processes. All outplanted sites were monitored to evaluate genotypic survivorship, growth rates, and functional and structural changes to adjacent reefs. In 2006, this project was replicated and expanded to three more sub-regions of the Florida Reef Tract (Lower Keys, Biscayne and Broward). The expanded project allowed for comparisons between genotypic fitness in staghorn coral across much of the Florida Reef Tract, and provided a solid basis for determining areas where large-scale restoration efforts would provide the greatest returns. The current project builds on the success of these previous projects, helping to increase production of propagated corals, rebuild populations of this threatened species, restore coral reefs, improve ecosystem services, and invest in the infrastructure needed for future restoration activities.
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