The case for coral nurseries in Roatan
As you make your way for your safety stop at Seaquest, all of a sudden it comes into focus: An underwater forest of manmade tree-like contraptions. Little bits of coral dangle from these metal ‘trees’ like Christmas ornaments. What you’ve happened upon is the Roatan Marine Park’s Coral Restoration Nursery. The nursery is a super cool location to spot slender file fish, squid squads and even turtles and eagle rays – but it’s purpose is even cooler than that. The nursery is designed to ‘grow’ coral fragments that can then be outplanted onto the reef in order to increase coral coverage with more resilient coral species.
Wait – how do you grow coral?!
First it starts with the coral fragments. Broken bits of Elkhorn, Staghorn and Prolifera coral (which is a hybrid of the two) are recovered from the reef and then hung from the trees. Here they can avoid predators such as fireworms and snails while benefiting from increased sunlight and well-circulated water free flowing amongst the trees.
Much like a plant nursery, these smaller fragments are essentially nursed back to health (pun intended!), so that they can grow into larger, stronger fragments that will survive being outplanted back onto the reef. The more mature corals are then taken to the Roatan dive site Chiefs Quarters where they are “planted” using two-part epoxy. Many times they are positioned near existing coral colonies of the same species which indicate that the location is an area where the coral transplants will thrive.
Why do corals matter anyway?
Reefs cover only .2% of the ocean floor yet sustain 25% of marine life. They also contribute greatly to our lives providing recreation, billions of jobs and coastline protection. Not to mention, the joy, peace and exhilaration we experience when we get to connect underwater to the beauty of the reefs.
That’s a pretty big job for such a small population of coral. Yet, this all-too-important and already limited ecosystem is under attack from warming sea temps, diseases such as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease damage from ships of all kinds, and destruction from construction such as port dredging.
As coral coverage diminishes, so will the home to thousands of species of fish, invertebrates, marine mammals and more. So will our ability to spark joy from exploring the reef while scuba diving. And so will the protection from storms and erosion, as well as the foundation for billions of jobs worldwide.
In short, a world without corals is not one we’re excited about living in or raising our children to have to struggle with.
What’s the coral situation in Roatan?
The MesoAmerican Barrier Reef in Roatan is under the same catastrophic stressors as reefs around the world. To help offset the loss of coral colonies seen here on the island, The Roatan Marine Park has developed a nursery with 20 trees. Since the nursery’s installation in 2019, over 300 coral fragments have been outplanted. The next steps: continuing to expand the program, while also monitoring the outplanted coral for future growth and spawning (to ensure corals are self-propagating).
So now you’re saying ‘Cool, I want to help plant coral!’
You’re in luck. Divers have an opportunity to become volunteers through the Coral Restoration Ambassador program. As a Coral Restoration Program Certified Dive Center, we can certify you so that you
can perform basic tree maintenance, help repair trees that have been damaged from storms and surge, and even assist with outplanting and data monitoring. There are two certification levels and the course can be completed in just a couple days. Learn more about how to become a certified RMP Coral Ambassador.
If you’re not on the island and won’t be anytime soon: what are you waiting for? Book your ticket!! But you can also support form afar by donating to RMP’s program. Donations help fund nursery operations, permits to keep the program running, and ongoing analysis to improve future program decision.