Updated: Nov 11, 2022
By: Marina Garmendia and Isabela Rios
Figure 1. Marina Garmendia, Coralisma co-founder, recording the growth of micro-fragmented stony coral in Southeast Florida.
The new international collaboration aims to restore the Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park (APMNP) with stony coral micro-fragmentation techniques. This project is a partnership with non-profit Coralisma, the Mexican National Fishing Institute (INAPESCA), the National Fishing Research Center in Puerto Morelos (CRIAP), and the Coral Reef Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Laboratory (CRRAM) at Nova Southeastern University.
Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park (APMNP)
The Mesoamerican Reef system (MAR) is the second-largest coral reef track in the world, spanning approximately 1000 km offshore Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park (APMNP) has been a MAR marine protected area since 1998 and includes over 20 km of coral reefs. The APMNP supports the local community by sustaining tourism and the fishing industry. The coral cover in this area is in decline due to both local and global anthropogenic stressors, including increase sea temperatures and disease events.
Figure 2. Map of the Mesoamerican Reef system (MAR), its ecosystems, goods, and services. By the Summit Foundation.
The Problem: Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD)
Stony coral populations in this area have declined due to local and global anthropogenic stressors, including increased sea temperatures and disease events.
The recent significant losses associated with the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) outbreak, first reported in the APMNP in June 2018, highlighted the need to expand restoration activities in the region. A collaborative project has been established to implement coral restoration activities in the APMNP using stony coral micro-fragmentation techniques.
Figure 3. Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) in a colony of C. natans in the United States Virgin Islands in January 2019. By Meiling, Sonora, Tyler B Smith et al.
The Process of Micro-Fragmentation:
Figure 4. Illustration of the micro-fragmentation. By Body Glove Hawaii
1. Collect corals of opportunity
Divers go out into the field looking for corals of opportunity. This name pertains to coral fragments that have been naturally unattached from their substrate or parent colony. If left untouched, corals of opportunity do not have high hopes of survival.
2. Tank Quarantine
Place collected corals in an ex-situ (tank) nursery for two weeks to ensure they do not carry any disease that might contaminate the other collected corals.
Figure 5. Rescued corals from Dry Tortugas National Park. By: Carly Dennison/ University of Miami
Micro-fragmentation is cutting whole coral colonies into < 5 cm fragments, which optimizes growth, increases genetic diversity, and facilitates reproduction.
Figure 6. Diamond blade band saw used to fragment stony corals. By CCRAM Lab NSU
4. Paste Micro-fragments to Small Cement Pieces
Using marine epoxy the freshly cut fragments are glued onto small cement pieces that will later form part of a large cement base. These pieces are kept in an in-situ nursery for about a month to heal the wounds. Once the cut has healed, the fragments have demonstrated accelerated growth.
Figure 7. Marina Garmendia, NSU Master student, holding a plate of micro-fragments from the CCRAM Lab.
5. Coral Out-Plant!
Finally, the healthy micro-fragments are moved onto their new home, cement bases at restoration sites. The main idea is to place these small pieces of coral close to each other, so the tissue grows and becomes one, as seen at the bottom right of 8.
Figure 8. Montastreae cavernosa on the last stage of the micro-fragmentation process. The fragments have started to fuse together, demonstrating a healthy transition. By CCRAM Lab
Once the tissue has grown all around the cement structure, the coral will have the size of a mature adult coral. Independently from age, if a coral has a large enough size it will have the ability to sexually reproduce, ultimately increasing coral density and diversifying the reef.
Micro-fragmentation in Puerto Morelos, Mexico
During this new prospective international collaboration, the micro-fragmentation process will be used on 300 cement bases with three different species: Montastrea cavernosa, Orbicella faveolata, and Orbicella annularis. The susceptibility to the SCTLD and their growth rate in the Arrecife de Puerto Morelos National Park (APMNP), Mexico, will be determined. The data and information obtained at the end of the project to evaluate the re-introduction of susceptible species to the SCTLD and a management plan for coral restoration after future disease outbreaks.
Figure 9. CCRAM Lab Coral Restoration Master students. By CCRAM Lab
This project arises after determining the possibility of re-introducing susceptible species to the SCTLD at the APMNP and establishing a partnership between institutions to provide information on the efficacy of micro-fragmentation in the MAR and increase the abundance of reef-building species as part of restoration efforts. This project is a partnership with Coralisma, a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration, preservation, and education of coral reefs in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, the Mexican National Fishing Institute (INAPESCA), the National Fishing Research Center in Puerto Morelos (CRIAP), and the Coral Reef Restoration and Monitoring Laboratory (CRRAM) at Nova Southeastern University. In addition to promoting regional restoration efforts, this international collaboration will support education and advances restoration science by exchanging ideas and expertise.
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