Fragments of Hope: Re-seeding the Belizean Coral Reefs
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Sunday August 23, 2015

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Fragments of Hope
(coral nurseries in Belize)

To re-seed devastated reefs with genetically robust, diverse and resilient corals that will mature to spawning age/size, and at the same time begin to understand the biology and mechanisms of coral bleaching (i.e. the role of the coral host versus its symbiotic algae, the zooxanthellae when it comes to resiting or recovering from bleaching events)
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Fragments of Hope: Re-seeding the Belizean Coral Reefs

With coral reef health in Belize rapidly declining, several environmentalist have started initiatives to prevent the total loss of this valuable marine ecosystem and tourism attraction. One such initiative is called Fragments of Hope, and it aims to re-seed devastated reefs with genetically robust, diverse and resilient corals farmed in man-made nurseries. Marine Biologist Lisa Carne has been at the forefront of Fragments of Hope for the past eight years, slowly restoring the reef system at Laughing Bird Caye in the Stann Creek District. Due to her vast knowledge on coral nurseries, Hol Chan Marine Reserve invited Carne to give a special seminar as part of the 10th Annual Reef Week (May 2015).

Carne explained some of the threats that affect corals include pollution, over-fishing, sedimentation, global warming and other local human impacts. “Elevated sea temperatures have caused widespread bleaching and disease outbreaks, contributing to massive mortality. In 2006 the Caribbean acroporids (Elkhorn and Staghorn) were the first corals to be listed on the IUCN Red List; their status is Critically Endangered, one step away from extinct in the wild. These corals were formerly the most common in the Caribbean but their abundance has declined significantly in the last 30 years,” said Carne. Through Fragments of Hope, Carne creates hybrid corals that are more resilient to these threats.

Since these corals have adapted to high wave action and storms, broken fragments can create new colonies if they are stabilized. Since 2006, Fragments of Hope has been taking advantage of this phenomenon by affixing loose fragments back to the reef with cement and/or cable ties after storms or ship groundings have broken up corals. As of 2009, 15 coral nurseries have been established in Belize.

“The focus is on the Acroporidae because of their endangered status and rapid growth rates, they can produce over 300% of their original mass in just a year using three different artificial substrates: ropes, metal frames and cement discs on tables. While similar restoration efforts are occurring in places like Honduras, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys and the Dominica Republic with the aim of re-seeding reefs, only in Belize has the primary focus been on climate change adaptation by identifying corals with the most resistance to bleaching and disease. Both the coral host (animal) and their tiny symbiotic algae clades that live within the coral tissues have been genetically characterized (23 genotypes of corals to date) in an effort to understand why some corals are more resistant and/or resilient to bleaching and disease,” said Carne.

Due to its protection status, Laughing Bird Caye National Park is Belize’s first true reef restoration site. To date, over 17,000 coral fragments have been planted with the support of local tour guides, the Belize Fisheries Department and local Non-government Organizations. “True reef restoration includes more than just the Acroporids, so eight other coral species are included in the nurseries for future out-planting, some of them much slower growers. Currently, some researchers are lobbying to include another 12 Caribbean coral species on the IUCN Red List, so the time is now to experiment with growing and re-planting these corals. Growing and replanting corals represents a hands-on adaptive strategy for stakeholders like marine tour guides, marine reserve staff and trained volunteers. In Belize we are taking steps to ensure that we are propagating not only multiple genotypes, but also the strongest and fittest specimens,” said Carne.

At the end of her presentation those in attendance took the opportunity to ask questions and offered tips on how to better the coral nurseries. Hol Chan thanks Lisa Carne for taking the time to present Fragments of Hope to stakeholders.

For the whole story and more photos, click here for the article in the San Pedro Sun.

Photographs by Lisa Carne

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