Research Collaborations 

We partner with leading researchers, universities, and other organizations to help answer science questions that will advance our restoration goals.

The following is a list of on-going and official collaborations we are involved with in some capacity. Please check back regularly for updates on specific projects, or sign up to our newsletter.


Funding By:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


NOVA Southeastern University University of Miami



Little Conch Acropora Restoration

This project investigates how larger coral thickets and clusters function as an outplanting strategy for restoration work.  The project recreates size classes of outplanted staghorn coral that are larger than groups of individual colony transplants that are typically used throughout the Keys.

As part of this project, CRF outplanted 2000 corals from 14 different genetic strains at two sites on Little Conch Reef (a deep and shallow site). We are investigating growth and condition of the corals, the effects the transplants have on fish biodiversity in the area, damselfish interactions within coral colonies, and how different genetic strains impact survival and condition.


Funding By:

The Florida Aquarium


Akron Zoo
California Academy of Science
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
Mystic Seaquarium



Spawning and recruitment success of nursery-raised and outplanted colonies

In nature, reproduction conjures images of brilliant color displays and elaborate courtship dances but how does a sessile animal find its mate?

Acropora corals reproduce sexually through what is known as broadcast spawning. Spawning occurs just once a year and is an impeccably timed event typically synchronized around the August full moon.  Acropora colonies create packaged bundles of egg and sperm (gametes) housed within individual polyps. When the time is right, colonies release thousands of gamete bundles into the water column. These buoyant bundles rise to the waters’ surface and float passively in hopes of meeting up with gametes from neighboring colonies to cross-fertilize.

Once gametes meet and fertilize, the coral larvae (planula) remain in the water column slowly developing. As they develop larvae become free swimming and after a few days will begin to make their way down to the reef seeking a suitable area to settle, attach, and grow into a new coral colony.

CRF has had a long-standing history of watching out for spawning activity.  This annual project brings together coral biologists from around the country with a common goal: to document the spawning of nursery-raised and natural stands of staghorn and elkhorn coral in the Florida Keys.


Funding By:

University of Miami


Diego Lirman (Principle Investigator and Associate Professor)
Stephanie Schopmeyer (Senior Research Associate II)



Impact of damselfish gardening activities on recovering populations of the threatened staghorn coral

Historically, when staghorn coral was abundant, three-spot damselfish used the large thickets formed by this species as preferred habitat to cultivate their algal gardens. There was apparently a dynamic balance between the damage caused by the damselfish when they created and maintained their gardens for food and the growth and persistence of the thickets.

Today, with limited amounts of staghorn available, and large numbers of three-spots that are found on the reef, growth and survivorship of staghorn corals is negatively impacted by these fish. Three-spot damselfish cultivate algal lawns by biting away living coral tissue and aggressively defending their lawns from other herbivorous fish.

As a result, the gardens can grow large and eventually kill the staghorn colony. This project investigates several aspects of damselfish occupation dynamics on staghorn colonies in the Florida Keys, inside and outside Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs).

Goals are to determine the percent of staghorn colonies that have damselfish lawns, how algal lawns affect the growth and survivorship of staghorn corals, potential interactions between damselfish and other coral predators such as fireworms and snails, and the role protected areas (SPAs) may play on damselfish populations

Funding By:

Coral Restoration Foundation

Comparative growth and survival of Acropora cervicornis on disk versus tree nurseries

CRF is conducting a study to quantify differences in growth between methods used in our coral nurseries. The two methods used in this study include Disks and Coral Tree NurseriesTM. Corals grown on disks are hypothesized to have growth rates similar to natural populations on the reef.  Corals on tree nurseries have been observed to have an accelerated growth rate. This study will quantify potential differences in the two methods including the influence of seasonality on coral growth.

Funding By:

Coral Restoration Foundation

Developing Science-based guidance on elkhorn (A. palmata) outplanting techniques

In the last decade, substantial progress has been made in developing coral growth and propagation techniques for the active restoration of Acropora species.  Much of this effort has been focused on developing nursery and outplanting techniques for restoring staghorn corals on native reefs.  However, much less effort has been directed towards propagating and outplatning elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata).  Since 2009, the Coral Restoration Foundation has been developing nursery techniques for A. palmata, Over the years, CRF has established a large volume of reef-ready elkhorn and is now poised for a major push in outplanting these corals.

This project seeks to develop the best practices in elkhorn restoration by answering questions about outplant survivorship and growth, thicket development, and coral recruitment, with the overall goal of enhancing remnant populations.