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Aquarius Coral Restoration / Resilience Experiments (ACRRE)

Principal Investigator: Dr. Margaret Miller, NOAA Fisheries
Training: June 7 — 11
Mission: June 15 — 24

In recent years, the capacity to culture corals and the availability of ‘rescued’ corals in South Florida has grown. Consequently, there is interest in utilizing these available corals over a wide range of transplant/restoration/restocking applications, given the poor state of coral populations in the region. This mission is our third in conducting a controlled transplant experiment to explicitly compare the performance of corals of two primary reef-building species (Montastraea faveolata and Acropora cervicornis) from different source populations (including lab-cultured, field nurseries, and wild-collected) when transplanted to a common fore-reef environment, the Aquarius undersea lab site in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Fragments from different source populations have been transplanted in mono-source and multi-source blocks to examine potential detrimental effects between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ corals. A smaller number of fragments have also be transplanted to a nearby shallow site (Conch shallow) and an alternate deep site (Molasses) to ‘calibrate’ performance responses measured at the Aquarius site (60 ft) to shallow depths where restoration transplants would be more likely. Performance of the transplants is being evaluated by a wide range of parameters (e.g., growth, survivorship, photosynthesis, surface microbial community composition) and related to the genotype of each fragment.

In addition to surveying, measuring growth, photographing, sampling mucous, and measuring photosynthetic performance on the transplants, much of our mission will be focused on a set of experiments on feeding ecology of two important corallivores that impair transplant success. The feeding behaviors of both snails (Coralliophila abbreviata) and fireworms (Hermodice carunculata) will be intensively observed and the worms’ potential to serve as a coral disease vector will be tested.

Results of this project will enable improved success of coral restocking efforts and better management decisions in permitting such activities.