We work with leading researchers, universities, scientists, and other organizations to help answer science questions that will advance our coral restoration research and goals. We are also in a unique position to provide investigators with corals from our nurseries—as well as limited field support—for experimental work that aligns itself with our research priorities.
Decisions and involvement is based on a list of research priorities that our Scientific Advisory Committee established. These priorities allow us to: focus how we spend limited research funding, determine which projects receive nursery-raised corals for experimental purposes, and assign staff and boats to support external projects.
1. Coral Nurseries
The Foundation currently has methods and the capacity to grow and maintain tens of thousands of staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) in its nurseries, with over 100 genotypes represented. Additional methods are sought to increase the efficiency and numbers of nursery-raised corals that can be successfully transplanted to offshore reefs throughout southeast Florida. Additional priority species for nursery expansion include the following corals: the mountainous start coral (Orbicella faveolata), the lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis), the boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi), and pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus).
2. Identify Suitable Restoration Sites
Monitoring results and anecdotal evidence suggests that corals survive better at some locations and not others. From a pragmatic point of view, identifying suitable restoration sites is a priority that was highlighted by the Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration Working Group, during review of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management plan. Work is needed to understand why some sites are suitable and others are not. For example, corals continue to succumb to diseases or predation in a matter of weeks at some locations, but not others.
3. Evaluate Long-Term Success
Monitoring is needed to assess the growth and condition of corals once they are transplanted to offshore reefs in southeast Florida. A goal is to develop standardized monitoring methods and to implement a program that can determine transplant success of previous and ongoing restoration efforts. Results from monitoring programs should help inform restoration strategies by identifying reef locations, habitat types, and community structure that positively affect coral survival. Also, data are needed that document how different coral genotypes (and associated microbes and symbionts) correlate with growth and condition measurements, and the success of different transplant methodologies.
4. Community Structure & Restoration Success
A research goal is to determine how ecology impacts restoration success, specifically how damselfish, urchins (Diadema antillarum), and coral predators such as fireworms (Hermodice carunculata) and snails (Coralliophila abbreviata) affect the condition of transplanted corals. How these organisms impact transplanted corals may also depend broadly on characteristics of the surrounding habitat, such as depth, relative cover and abundance of other benthic organisms, and fish abundance.
5. Impacts of Coral Disease & Coral Bleaching
Research projects that address coral disease or coral bleaching, that have direct application to coral restoration ecology, are considered high priority. For example, a research goal is to identify genotypes (symbionts and microbes matter too) that are resistant to coral disease or coral bleaching. A secondary goal is to understand why the corals are resistant, especially if there are interactions. CRF recognizes that maintaining genetic diversity in coral populations is important. Therefore, the significance of identifying corals resistant to one or two stressors needs to be placed in context with the population genetics of the species locally, regionally, and throughout the Caribbean.
The Foundation recognizes that traditional methods used to restore coral reefs, while showing great promise, remain labor intensive. Therefore, innovative (for example, in engineering or developing new attachment methods and materials) solutions are sought that increase the numbers and survival rates of transplanted corals. Additional innovations might enhance natural coral recruitment and survival, promote resiliency to coral disease or coral bleaching, and manipulate habitat structure or ecology to enhance transplants or natural recruitment. Applied projects are a higher priority than basic research projects.