What do you do when hurricanes and climate change wipe out the corals on the tops of the Caribbean coral reefs? It’s quite simple: you build them a nursery where they can grow up undisturbed and protected until they can go out into the big wide ocean world!
That is exactly what Martha Roesler, an employee of the CRF (Coral Restoration Foundation), is doing on Key Largo, a coral island south of Miami. She is in charge of instructing 12 permanent employees and over 100 volunteers a year on how to properly care for the corals in her coral nurseries off the coast. Toothbrushes are the most important tool!
From June to November severe hurricanes batter the Caribbean reefs. In 2017 Hurricane Irma hit Florida with its full force. Martha describes the impact on the reefs very vividly: "The waves are so high that you can see the reef top with its corals exposed in the wave trough 10 metres deep, and then you see how the next wave completely clears it away!“ If you’ve ever looked at a 10 m diving tower or dived 10 m deep you’ll know how high waves have to be to create a 10 metre deep trough.
The CRF then had the brilliant idea of growing coral fragments under ideal conditions and reintroducing them onto the reef roofs. JBL supports this project together with Megazoo Bangel and others, and has taken a look at the CRF's activities on site. About 40 minutes by boat from Key Largo is one of the seven coral nurseries. JBL general manager Roland Böhme and JBL marine biologist Heiko Blessin accompanied CRF biologist Martha Roesler underwater in early June 2018 to take a closer look at it. Like in an orange grove, the young coral trees stand in rows and are pliable enough to withstand any storm. Despite the relatively clear Caribbean water, we could only guess at the real size of the entire plantation! Iron racks are attached to around one hundred floats, to which the coral fragments are attached. In the nutrient-rich water and at a maximum depth of 12 metres, they grow more than 12 cm per year. Nine species of stony corals (from the genera Acropora, Orbicella, Dendrogyra, Porites, Occulina as well as Siderastrea) with 296 genotypes are cultivated here. This makes the CRF the largest coral foundation in the world. The hanging gardens reach down to about four metres below the surface.
Diligent CRF staff clean the metal poles of algae with small brushes and clip off unwanted settlers with tongs. Metal rod by metal rod, tree by tree are cleaned in this way. In over 8,000 hours underwater, more than 13,400 corals were raised and planted in the reef canopy in 2017, for 22 sites on the Florida offshore reefs. An enormous effort that raises the question of whether it really makes sense? But Martha is beaming all over: "10 years ago, the large stony coral species had practically disappeared from our reefs. Today they are back - and growing! When the coral spawning season starts, we will have real coral spawning again and the larvae will help the corals to spread. We have been around for ten years now and have returned a total of over 66,000 corals to the reefs. Many people help us in our sometimes arduous work and many people and companies like JBL support the CRF. We believe in our success because we can see it!" Nothing to add to that, except: donations please to: CORAL REEF RESTORATION .