Coral Nurseries: Phase One Results "Strengthening Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change"
The World Bank has funded a project through the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize entitled "Strengthening Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change" as part of the program of adaptation to climate change impacts in the Caribbean. The project is one of several, practical, on the ground measures designed to address climate impacts in the region. Consultants Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby, Marine Scientist, based in Fiji and Lisa Carne based in Placencia, Belize have established six coral nursery sites in Southern Belize using three different in situ culture methods: "frames", "tables" and "ropes".
The project includes ground breaking genetics work on both the corals and their symbiotic zooxanthellae algae to identify thermally tolerant corals for propagation and out-planting to reefs destroyed by hurricanes, ship groundings and/or climate change (bleaching).
With the support of the Fisheries Department, two-three nursery sites will be established near San Pedro and Caye Caulker in early December. These will be specifically to propagate and preserve the Threatened Caribbean Acroporid species (Elkhorn and Staghorn): the first corals to be listed on the IUCN's Red List.
It is anticipated that the work completed in Belize will serve as a model for coral reef restoration throughout the Caribbean.
There is a dissemination workshop planned for Thursday, December 10, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Sunbreeze Hotel conference room. All are welcome to hear what is being done, why, and what is hoped to be accomplished. The following day, Friday, December 11, a field trip is funded for 15 participants to visit the coral nurseries: this field trip is for marine reserve staff and tour guides only. Contact Lisa Carne for more info: [email protected].
"Coral gardening", means actively caring for corals on reefs. The program trains community members and resort staff to remove overabundant coral-killing predators, to weed excessive seaweeds that are smothering corals, to dust sand kicked up by snorkeler's off massive corals, and to replant corals broken by careless divers and storms to dead reef areas.
Building fish houses or "coral castles", and planting corals on these structures is another coral gardening activity, and the increased numbers of fish work to improve the health of corals on the reef by controlling coral predators and seaweeds.
The foundation of healthy coral reefs is clear, clean water low in muddy silt and low in pollution, and with abundant fish and other animals that in turn keep the corals clean and free of major predator outbreaks. While coral gardening is useful on degraded reefs, helping sick corals regain some strength, the longer-term solution requires addressing the root causes of decline.
Any reef- no matter how healthy, if visited by thousands of tourists annually will decline over time. Coral gardening, if actively applied to such highly-used reefs can help manage the inadvertent damage caused by this important economic activity.
Mother corals are first established in the coral farms, by trimming sections off wild corals. Where possible, entire colonies are selected from populations of jeopardized corals, such as where the corals are growing so close together that competition for space amongst the corals is resulting in corals dying, or where corals are exposed out of the water at low tide. Another source of mother corals comes from corals broken by fishing activities, anchors, and storm waves.
After growing the mother corals for about two years, the corals reach the size of a large dinner plate. At that point, the mother corals are trimmed to produce numerous 1-2 inch (2-5cm) "seed corals", which are in turn planted onto 4cm concrete disks or "coral cookies", each shaped like a button, with two small holes for threading fishing line. These cookies are woven into heavy metal frames with heavy line and placed on underwater tables made of iron bars. The corals are left to grow in the coral farms for 6 to 14 months. These second-generation corals are either, replanted into restoration sites, onto coral castles, or harvested, bleached and colored with acrylic paints to re-establish a more realistic coral color.
Conserving 25-30% of the over-fished coral reef as no-fishing areas typically results in doubling of the catch within one year in the open fishing areas, and up to five fold within only three years.