Boat Brief:

Sav­ing co­ral reefs

Boating NZ - - Contents -

Co­ral reefs are of­ten cited as an ‘early warn­ing sys­tem’ for oceans, their health an in­di­ca­tor of gen­eral well-be­ing – or not. Bleached reefs – dam­aged by a com­bi­na­tion of heat­waves, pol­lu­tion, over­fish­ing and acid­i­fi­ca­tion – are clear in­di­ca­tors that all is not well.

Which is why sci­en­tists work­ing with the Florida-based Co­ral Restora­tion Foun­da­tion (CRF) are at­tempt­ing to stop the rot by cre­at­ing co­ral ‘nurs­eries’ – where ju­ve­nile co­ral is grown in con­trolled con­di­tions be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to ‘take root’ on dam­aged reefs.

These ma­rine farms – in many trop­i­cal lo­ca­tions around the planet – typ­i­cally in­volve co­ral be­ing grown on fi­bre­glass trees.

“The idea is to give these co­ral pop­u­la­tions a fight­ing chance,” says Jes­sica Levy, pro­gramme man­ager at CRF. “If you don’t put back the ma­te­rial and di­ver­sity that has been lost, the pop­u­la­tions are go­ing to crash and be­come ex­tinct. For reefs, you’re look­ing at a global ex­tinc­tion of the ecosys­tem if things don’t change quickly.”

Florida has the world’s third largest bar­rier reef, with nearly 1,400 species of plants and an­i­mals and 500 species of fish. But the reef is van­ish­ing. Re­search sug­gests about half the reef has dis­ap­peared over the past 250 years. Cov­er­age of acro­p­ora, the pri­mary genus of reef-build­ing corals, has plum­meted by 97%.

Cli­mate change is a ma­jor threat. In 2014 a spike in wa­ter tem­per­a­tures led to co­ral bleach­ing on Florida reefs – and again in 2015, as a pro­longed global bleach­ing event gripped the planet’s reefs. Aus­tralia’s Great Bar­rier Reef was par­tic­u­larly badly af­fected.

CRF has ac­cel­er­ated its co­ral re­plant­ing pro­gramme with the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion. Part­ner­ships have formed to pro­vide its fi­bre­glass trees to places such as Ja­maica and Colom­bia. Re­cently, some 100 corals were suc­cess­fully planted on the Great Bar­rier Reef us­ing the co­ral tree frames. The largest of CRF’S nurs­eries, near the Key Largo coast, has around 500 trees. BNZ

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