Corals in Our Nurseries
Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching, hard coral that was previously dominant in the Caribbean. In 2006, this species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Staghorn, along with other hard corals, are important to our reefs because they provide habitat and protection to creatures in the ocean.
Staghorn corals in our nurseries grow from finger sized fragments to the size of a dinner plate in about 6-9 months. Once they are “reef-ready,” we are able to take them the short distance to the reef and outplant them to increase the population and genetic diversity on restoration sites.
Elkhorn corals (Acropora palmata) are another important reef-building coral in the Caribbean that was once previously dominant in many areas. Elkhorn gets its name from the branch-like structures that appear similar to an elk’s antlers.
This species was greatly affected by white band disease and other stressors
adding it to the ESA as threatened in 2006. It is estimated 92-97% of elkhorn has been lost in the past four decades.
In 2016, Coral Restoration Foundation outplanted close to 3,500 elkhorn corals in South Florida.
Boulder Star Corals
Boulder star coral, known as Orbicella annularis, is one of the larger coral species found throughout the Caribbean. Unfortunately, within the past 20 years, the boulder star coral has seen over a 50% decrease in population and
is now listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2015, we began adding these corals to our nurseries. With over 36 genotypes already growing on our trees, the preservation of genetic diversity of O. annularis has begun.
Mountainous Star Corals
Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) is a large, mounding coral, distinct from boulder star coral due to its lumps and lobes. Along with boulder star coral, over 36 genotypes of the mountainous star coral were added to our
nursery in 2015. Its recent decrease in population due to its susceptibility to bleaching and disease has led to this important addition to our nurseries.
Blade Fire Coral
Blade fire coral, also known as Millepora complanata, is one of the coral species currently in our nurseries. They have been listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List, but there has been a visible decline along the Florida Reef
Tract due to numerous bleaching years back to back.
Blade fire coral was added to our nurseries in early 2016 and was originally collected from 16 unique sites to promote genetic diversity.
Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) is a hard coral that gets its name from its finger-like columnar form. These corals, now officially listed as “vulnerable,” were once found across the western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
NOAA’s recent observations resulted in the realization that there is a small number of colonies remaining in South Florida and a call to action was made. In doing so, there is now a preservation of genetic diversity that will be
available for restoration efforts if the pillar corals continue to die off.
Collection efforts were made throughout the summer of 2016. Currently, some of the parent colonies from these collected individuals are hanging on trees in Coral Restoration Foundation’s offshore nurseries. Here, they will grow and be kept healthy until the next steps are set in place regarding restoration.
Ecological & Economic Significance
These species of corals are ecologically and economically important because they provide key ecosystem services. The coral reef is an essential nursery habitat for many organisms. It also acts as grounds for breeding, feeding, and spawning for many commercially important fish and invertebrates. In fact, over 25% of the ocean’s organisims need coral reefs to survive.
Healthy, hard corals protect the coastline and act as a buffer system when
large storms hit. Their structures dissipate the incoming waves and protect the land from erosion, preventing property damage and protecting lives. Coral reefs also support fishing, boating, scuba diving, and other tourism, recreational, and commercial-related activities that generates billions of dollars per year worldwide.