Three species of coral that were taken out of reefs in Bonaire and grown in nurseries have been returned to the reefs, the Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire announced this week.
“For the first time in history, three species of boulder coral have been outplanted back to Bonaire’s reefs: lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis), mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), and great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa). In late 2022, Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire began outplanting boulder coral fragments that were propagated via fragmentation almost two years prior and reared in nurseries. All three species of boulder coral, two of which are endangered, are key building blocks of the marine ecosystem and will bolster the resilience of Bonaire’s reefs for years to come.”
At its inception in 2012, the foundation initially focused on two species of branching coral: staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). The foundation has since expanded its restoration efforts to more species, first through a larval propagation program and now a fragmentation technique, as well.
The foundation said:
“It is crucial to maximize the number species that benefit from restoration to ensure that future reefs are as genetically diverse and resilient as possible.”
In 2019, the foundation, with a government permit and input from STINAPA, collected a few boulder coral fragments from four wild colonies around the island. These fragments were hung on specially designed nursery trees and closely monitored for indicators of disease, bleaching, and other stressors over the following two years.
In December 2022, the first “reef-ready” boulder corals were taken to various restoration sites on Bonaire and outplanted using a novel, cement-based attachment technique. Fragments are pressed into small domes of fresh cement and secured to sand or rock; once hardened, these structures become part of the reef, where they will be monitored for the coming years by the Reef Renewal team. Although RRFB has been propagating boulder coral larvae for years, this is the first time that colonies were reared and fragmented in a nursery setting before being outplanted.
Francesca Virdis, the foundation’s chief operating officer, said:
“Outplanting these boulder coral fragments for the first time was a critical step for us, one that was necessary to fine-tune our restoration techniques and establish proper operating protocols. From now on, our focus is scaling up their production to make sure that, with the help of our incredible community of dedicated volunteers, thousands of corals will be outplanted back to our reefs every year.”