The first Caribbean regional gathering on coral rescue recently brought together some 50 managers and experts from 15 countries to plan how to rescue and restore stony corals in the face of the devastation caused by coral disease.
Since it first appeared in 2014 in Florida, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has now spread to 25 countries and territories in the Caribbean region. Managers have responded by monitoring affected corals. In some cases, affected corals have been treated and some corals have successfully been saved. Other corals have proven resilient and survived despite the passage of the disease.
The Coordinator of the MPAConnect Network, Emma Doyle, commented: “Caribbean coral managers are looking for additional tools to save the biodiversity of these slow-growing, reef-building stony corals in the face of coral disease. Where the disease has already decimated reefs, they’re looking for practical ways to restore those stony corals that have been lost.”
Coral rescue refers to efforts to preserve and restore the biodiversity of stony corals in the face of this rapidly advancing and devastating coral disease.
Dana Wusinich-Mendez, Atlantic-Caribbean Team Lead for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program explained: “Coral rescue has become an important tool in our efforts to address the destructive impacts of stony coral tissue loss disease. It can serve as an insurance policy that will help Caribbean coral reef resource managers in their efforts to restore their reefs in the future as well as to build ecosystem resilience to future coral disease outbreaks.”
With there being much already known about the restoration of other faster-growing species of coral, the recent Reef Futures Symposium in Key Largo served as the venue for a dedicated workshop on planning for stony coral rescue. Regional coral experts shared about new approaches, the latest science and evolving technologies to help save Caribbean stony corals that are otherwise succumbing to disease.
“As the field evolves, we’re seeing a trend towards ex-situ coral rescue in the form of land-based nurseries housing whole healthy corals or micro fragments of healthy corals. We’re also seeing more monitoring of coral spawning and rearing of coral larvae in lab settings or in-situ,” explained Ms. Wusinich-Mendez.
MPAConnect’s sponsored workshop participants stayed on for the 3-day Reef Futures conference. Notwithstanding the interruptions in the program caused by Hurricane Ian, they were able to deepen their knowledge of coral rescue and restoration by networking with the many experts who were present and by joining feature presentations.
“We can see how creative approaches and technical support from all over the world are producing innovative techniques for stony coral rescue,” commented workshop participant Andrea Godoy from Fundación Cayos Cochinos in Honduras.
Coral rescue can represent tangible action to help stem the loss of reef-building corals and maintain all the services that reefs provide for coastal communities and national economies. From a management perspective, questions surround the feasibility of coral rescue in the Caribbean and the workshop sought to help managers address the various dimensions of relevant management capacity.
Caren Eckrich from STINAPA commented: “The workshop brought me in contact with others across the region battling SCTLD and I am now familiar with responses – those that worked and those that did not – as well as strategies for assisting our reefs and rescuing corals during the distinct phases of SCTLD.”
The presentations and materials used in the workshop will be found online at GCFI’s website www.gcfi.org and at the SCTLD resource hub at the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Program’s (AGRRA’s) website https://www.agrra.org/coral-
Adapted from communication from GCFI – October 11, 2022