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Restoration Helps Coral Reefs and Fish Populations Rebound After Ship Grounding


For the last two years, we’ve been monitoring coral reefs at two different restoration sites in the Caribbean. And now, we are seeing results: healthier corals and larger fish populations. These monitoring results show that large-scale outplanting of nursery-grown staghorn coral—a new approach to coral restoration—is working.

Two reefs were damaged when a ship ran aground in 1998 and in 2006. Using nursery-grown corals, we restocked the reefs with adult colonies of staghorn coral. The goal was to recover depleted coral populations, and create high-quality fish habitat.

Coral and fish have an inter-dependent relationship: fish use coral for habitat and keep coral healthy by eating the algae that compete with them for space. These “efficient lawnmowers” keep the coral from getting smothered by algae. This is even more important when excess nutrients from land-based sources of pollution encourage extra algae growth. Having healthy habitat is important for the fish too—their populations have shrunk due to overfishing and loss of habitat.

We compared the sites restored with large-scale outplantings of staghorn coral to areas using a more traditional restoration approach, which simply reattaches the broken corals. We also compared them to impacted areas that weren’t restored, and to “control” areas that were not impacted by the ship groundings.

After two years, we are seeing that our unique approach is working. The sites where restoration was complemented with large outplantings of staghorn coral had larger and more diverse fish populations. These fish will help maintain biodiversity on the reef and make the corals less vulnerable to threats like pollution and climate change.

Posted April 21, 2014



staghorn coral