Most scuba divers favor sunlight and warm weather, yet too much sun exposure can cause sunburn. Our coral reefs are much the same — they also thrive on sunlight and in warm water, however, prolonged exposure to higher water temperatures can lead to coral bleaching. Most corals can withstand bleaching for a short period of time, but extended exposure can cause coral death. To combat some of these ill effects of climate change, coral nursery projects have sprung up in tropical locations around the world. What is a coral nursery, and how do they work?
How does a coral nursery work?
Coral nurseries are underwater structures used in areas where coral populations have declined due to major environmental events or disease. NGOs, scientists, dive-shop personnel and other parties grow endangered corals on these structures. They may be attached via pedestals to blocks on the seafloor, hung on line nurseries, or placed in baskets suspended off the seafloor. Biologists and/or volunteers care for the rescued corals, monitoring their health and growth. They work to keep algae, encrusting sponges, predators and invaders at bay.
Why are they so popular?
Multiple studies indicate that these restoration methods are very effective. Furthermore, it causes no excess damage to fragments or donor colonies. Once out-planted, corals behave just as wild colonies. Acropora restoration projects in the Caribbean prove that coral nurseries are one of the most effective methods of restoration, as approximately 90 percent of out-planted corals survive and thrive once back on the reef.
Where are the successful nurseries?
In the Americas, Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is the longest-running with over 10 years of work and nurseries in nine different places. In Honduras, the Utila (UCR) project and Roatan (Bay Islands Reef Restoration) are ongoing.
How can divers support them?
Divers can help by learning how to minimize their impact while diving, following Project AWARE’s 10 Tips for Divers and using reef-friendly sunscreen like Stream2Sea. Donating both your time and money to projects in need is helpful as well.
A quick internet search for coral-restoration projects or coral nurseries provides a list of resources. You can contact CRF in the United States and visit their website to see opportunities and locations for volunteering. The Utila Coral Restoration project in the Caribbean offers two courses:
PADI Coral Nursery Maintenance Distinctive Specialty
In this distinctive specialty you will learn about the various methodologies available when carrying out restoration efforts. In addition, you will learn about the process of maintaining the corals and monitoring the fragments within the nursery. You will visit our coral nursery and help us do routine maintenance.
PADI Coral Out-planting Distinctive Specialty
In this distinctive specialty you can learn about and practice the process of out-planting coral back onto degraded reef areas.
By Daniela Mejia and Andy Phillips