It can take decades for a reef to restore itself after big impact events, such as ship groundings, but the researchers at the Hawai’i Coral Restoration Nursery may have figured out a way to give life back to impacted areas.
Their mission is to send coral development into hyper speed, using the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) Fast Growth Protocol to grow corals into larger colonies for outplanting and mitigation. This fast growth method has the potential to restore reefs like never before. “If your reefs are not healthy, you’re not going to be catching fish, if the reefs start crumbling, you’re not going to have any surf. So people that even are not biologists or scientists, they’re still using the ocean, so they should care what they’re doing when they’re out there.” said Coral Nursery Specialist Norton Chan.
They do this by using innovative techniques that don’t involve the extraction of corals from healthy reef systems. Instead, they plan to harvest from state controlled harbors, whose corals are of lower ecological service values with an already built resistance to reef disturbances and temperature change. The corals taken from the harbors undergo a quarantine process and are evaluated for regrowth potential. They are then cut down into 1cm squares, keeping only the tissue and a thin layer of the skeleton. Providing optimal lighting and living conditions, they space the 1cm pieces apart on triangular stone tiles, where the coral parts can fuse together as they grow. Once ready, they move the coral to an acclimation tank in order to prepare the coral for the conditions of the sea.The nursery also uses re-aggregation methods, taking a small piece of the growing coral before it’s introduced to the acclimation tank, to get started on the next coral colony.
Hawaii’s coral reefs generally take a very long time to grow, averaging about 1cm of growth per year. Using the DAR Fast Growth Protocol, they are able to grow small clonal fragments of coral colony at about 2-3cm per year, while recombining them into larger colonies. The DAR grows the colonies to 30cm+ before outplanting, giving them enough time to become sexually reproductive. By replanting larger reef systems, they also provide a bigger shelter for fish and more protection from sedimentation, giving the corals the best chance at starting new life on the once impacted area.“How many people fish and scuba dive? You go scuba diving and you don’t want to look at bare rock area, you want to see life” said Chan.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is currently on a mission to hold those responsible for the reef destruction, by having them pay money to the nations first Aquatic Mitigation Bank. Offenders would pay the Mitigation Bank, and the DAR Coral Restoration Nursery would provide coral colonies for the impacted areas under the cover of the bank.
The team is currently utilizing their talents to grow reef building corals such as Montipora capitata, Montipora patula, Porites lobata, Pavona varians and more. These species are known as reef builders because they are able to extract calcium carbonate from the water to create a durable exoskeleton that new coral polyps can live on.
*Cover photo was also taken from the DAR Coral Nursery poster presentation at ICRS 2016*