Can Microfragmenting Save Coral?

A Healthy Reef in Indonesia

A Healthy Reef in Indonesia

In the lower Florida Keys, a coral breakthrough has been made. Due to the warming and acidification of the oceans, almost ¼ of all the world’s coral has died in the past few decades. But now, there may be a solution.

Dr. David Vaughan, a marine biologist and the executive director of Mote Tropical Research Laboratory, accidentally found a “quick grow” technique for coral, which he now calls “microfragmenting.”

Eight years ago, while moving a coral colony from one tank to another, some polyps that had grown over the substrate onto the bottom of the tank broke off. Vaughan assumed he had killed those polyps, but a few days later they had doubled in number on the glass bottom.

This is how Vaughan discovered the amazing healing ability of coral. When damaged it races to regrow, perhaps to prevent territory loss. This is the basis of Vaughan’s latest ambitious project – one of the largest attempted coral restorations ever. With this technique, transplanted coral can grow up to fifty times faster than they would in the wild.

Vaughan and his team have already begun transplanting 4,000 microfragments from the nursery into the wild. And, although some parrotfish predation halted initial efforts, new steps are effectively combating this issue.

It seems that microfragmenting holds much promise. Dr. Vaughan is optimistic: “At worst, we’re buying time. At best, we could restore the ecosystem.”



Hawaii Molasses Spill Threatens Marine Life

Last Monday, roughly 233,000 gallons of molasses were spilled into the Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon from a faulty pipeline built to transfer the molasses to a container ship.  According to a local dive shop owner who filmed this underwater video, the molasses has coated the ocean floor and turned the water an amber color.  It appeared as though everything had been killed by the sticky mess.  The sea floor was covered in dead marine organisms that had been suffocated by the molasses.  As the molasses breaks down, it pulls oxygen from the water.  Coral is also being harmed by the changed environment.

The spill is also posing several danger to humans.  Swimming is unadvisable as the dead fish floating on the surface of the harbor will play host to bacterial growth.  It is also expected that sharks and other predatory animals will enter the harbor to feed on the dead organisms.

It will take several weeks before the molasses is completely flushed out of the harbor by the tides.  In the meantime, the EPA has recommended the use of “air curtains” to oxygenate the water.  The corporation responsible for the mess, Matson, has no plans in place to ameliorate the crisis.


Beautiful Keehi Lagoon Pre-Spill

Saving Our Seas One “Frag” at a Time

While it’s true that coral reefs are beautiful, they are also much much more. The importance of reefs in the ocean can be compared to that of rain forests on land. They support incredibly diverse ecosystems by providing both food and shelter to a multitude of organisms.

The destruction of reefs also has a detrimental effect on humans. Over 500 million people depend on coral reefs for shoreline protection, food, and as a source of income. Without coral reef ecosystems, the fishing industry would lose a serious chunk of product. Tourism would be hurt as well.

20% of Earth’s coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% has been badly damaged. That’s where the Coral Restoration Foundation comes in. Founded by Ken Nedimyer, the nonprofit has been growing and transplanting coral in the Florida Keys since 2001.

The Nedimyer’s team grows small fingers of coral by suspending them from the “branches” of a PVC “tree trunk.” The CRF method for culturing the “frags,” as small coral pieces or fragments are called, is unconventional but highly successful and creates a distinctive sunken landscape.

The Elkhorn coral frags that have grown large enough to be transplanted have seen a 100% survival rate. And the coral is not just surviving, but thriving! Most pieces have grown substantially since transplantation.