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Major Coral Restoration Underway in Puerto Rico

Over the last three years, we’ve been growing staghorn corals in a nursery off the coast of Talla Boa, Puerto Rico. Last month, we transferred 1,200 of those endangered corals to nearby reefs—the largest single coral restocking effort ever undertaken in the Caribbean.

Staghorn coral—and its cousin, elkhorn coral—used to be abundant in the Caribbean. Shallow-water corals like these serve as important habitat for many commercially important species targeted for fishing. The fish that grow and live on coral reefs are a significant food source for more than a billion people worldwide. Coral reefs also protect coastlines from storms and erosion, and provide jobs and income to local economies through fishing, recreation, and tourism.

But these reefs are being lost at an alarming rate due to climate change, impacts of fishing activities, and pollution. In fact, staghorn and elkhorn were the first coral species to be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

We’re working to combat that problem. At Talla Boa, we’re rebuilding reefs using nursery-grown corals. This nursery was started three years ago using small coral fragments that were broken when the oil tanker Margara grounded on a reef in 2006. The nursery has grown from less than 100 small fragments to more than 1,500 adult corals. These efforts are not only increasing the size of the population but enabling the coral to become self-sustaining by increasing genetic diversity.

Last month, we planted more than 1,200 adult colonies of staghorn coral from the nursery to nearby sites to help restock the reefs.  This nursery site uses floating underwater coral arrays, a method developed by the NOAA Restoration Center. The arrays allow corals to grow on floating frames, which protect them from predators and storm damage. This method is cost-effective, while achieving unprecedented coral growth and high survival rates.. These activities, which will help this threatened species recover, are being implemented locally with Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Posted March 6, 2012