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Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral have had their populations decline in the Bahamas by 90 percent or more. Using coral nurseries (above) the Perry Institute hopes to reverse this.

Scientist Aim to Reduce Reef Decline with Abaco Study

A group of scientists and students from the Perry Institute for Marine Science are currently conducting a program in Abaco to reverse the decline of Bahamian coral reefs.

Dr. Craig Dahlgren, a Research Scientist and Executive Director of the Perry Institute said that they are currently working through a 10-year program funded by Disney Conservation Fund and other funding sources to reverse the decline of Bahamian coral reefs.

“We’re a small nonprofit research institute based in the US, but we’ve been doing work in the Bahamas since 1970, and we’re working with the Cape Eleuthera as well as students from Nova Southeastern University on this project.”

He said the program employs a lot of different strategies aimed at protecting coral reefs, improving management and fisheries to improve the health of overall coral reefs.

He said, “One aspect of this research is restoring coral onto reefs that have been impacted whether it’s from hurricanes, or man-made impacts or climate change, or whatever it might be, restoring some of the coral populations.”

He said that in particular, “we’re looking at the Elkhorn and Staghorn corals like out at Sandy Cay reef, because those are the ones that are extremely important reef building corals that provide homes for fish and everything else.”

Dr. Dahlgreen said that Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral have had their populations decline in the Bahamas by 90 percent or more “so they’re pretty much still found on reefs but in not nearly the abundance as they used to be, and not in the abundance where they’re actually able to reproduce on their own and recover without our help.”

He said they are engaged in a “bunch of different strategies for restoring reefs. On one of them we’re working with Friends of the Environment and with Troy Albury at Dive Guana is coral nurseries.

He said they take cuttings from these corals and grow them in open water in the ocean where they’re hanging suspended in the water at the ideal depth and light levels and temperatures where they can get accelerated growth rates and then plant them back out to the reef.

Another thing that the group will be doing over the next couple weeks is “actually collecting the spawn of corals and fertilizing the eggs, collecting the gametes when they spawn, fertilize the eggs, grow the larvae in these big pools out on the water, these vinyl enclosures with mesh sides to the point where the larvae are ready to settle.”

“We have specially designed set of substrates that they set onto little concrete and ceramic tetrapod titles. They look like little jacks or something like that,” he said.

He said, “So, the coral settles on to there and starts growing and we will plant those out on the reef to sort of reseed the reef. They are specially designed so that they’ll be easy to wedge into little crevices on a reef or if they get disturbed by a hurricane and dislodge they’ll roll around, and then reattach themselves.”

Dr. Dahlgreen said that Elkhorn and Staghorn coral spawn one or two nights a year and all the corals of that species on the reef will spawn, which will be around the first week of August this year.

“So, we’ll be going out at night to collect the spawn. And conduct some small scale experiments on land at the house, but during most of it we will be putting out hopefully tens of thousands, maybe 100,000 larvae into these pools.

“And afterwards we will monitor those over time to see how those little baby corals grow. They’re going to be the size of a period at the end of sentence but within a year they should be, an inch or so big,” he said.

“After that they’ll start growing exponentially faster and we’ll monitor over time their growth and survival,” he added.

“We chose that area at Sandy Cay near the far south mooring, so that is kind of a little bit out of the way. We want people to be aware not to disturb things, I mean, they’re welcome to come and look at it, as long as they’re not disturbing,” he said.

“Also, be aware of those little concrete tetrapod things don’t pick them up, Because once the coral starts growing on there, we don’t want to disturb it.”

Dr. Dahlgreen said that “I’ll be coming back here probably every month to every other month and monitor as I also have a bunch of other projects here starting in October will be doing an island-wide assessment of the health of reefs all across Abaco.”

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