Coral Restoration in the Florida Keys
Since 2010, Georgia Aquarium has been working in partnership with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) in the Upper Florida Keys to help to restore Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) corals using ocean-based aquaculture nurseries and transplantation methodologies. CRF is a non-profit conservation organization created to develop off-shore coral nurseries and reef restoration programs for critically endangered coral reefs at local, national, and international levels. The mission of CRF is to develop affordable, effective strategies for protecting and restoring coral reefs and to train and empower others to implement those strategies in their coastal communities. CRF has developed the largest offshore coral nursery in the United States, with more than 15,000 coral “frags” or “nubbins,” (14,000 Staghorn, 1,200 Elkhorn) and transplanted more than 3,000 corals from nursery to reef at 22 different reef areas in the Upper Florida Keys, with concentrated effort in Molasses Reef, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off of Key Largo, Florida. The goal of each restoration project is to re-establish genetically diverse thickets of coral and nurture them to maturity so they can spawn and repopulate downstream reef areas. This approach to active reef management has the potential to restore reefs to approximately their original biodiversity and stability.
Georgia Aquarium is proud to support the efforts of CRF. In 2011, two separate teams from Georgia Aquarium spent a week working side-by-side with CRF to complete both maintenance at the coral nurseries and plantings on Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. The work included propagation and maintenance at a Staghorn and Elkhorn coral nursery located just offshore of Tavanier, Florida. Georgia Aquarium’s team had the pleasure of planting 60 new Staghorn corals back onto a section of Molasses Reef that Georgia Aquarium is sponsoring. Three separate genotypes were planted, 20 of each, and data will be gathered through the upcoming months and years to see if one or more of the genotypes do well out on the existing reef. The team will continue photo documentation of the individual corals to help record the success and failures along the way.
Walker Conservation Fellow
To further assist with coral restoration efforts, Georgia Aquarium, with support from the Alex C. Walker Foundation, recently created the position of the Walker Conservation Fellow to develop and test a market-based approach known as “free market environmentalism” using a “Marine Payment for Ecosystem Services (MPES)” scheme to make reef restoration activities financially self-sustaining. The Fellow will apply Ecological Economics and MPES concepts to reef restoration efforts in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Fellow will explore feasibility, demonstrate proof of concept to stakeholders and begin the process of implementing an MPES scheme at a model reef in Florida.
The project in the Florida Keys is truly unique because it draws upon a variety of non-traditional disciplines to explore new ways to address long-term coral restoration and ecosystem recovery. For regular updates about the project, follow the Walker Conservation Fellow’s Twitter feed (@BrettWHowell) and his blog http://gaiaendeavors.com/.