Project title: Upscaling and optimizing coral sexual propagation technologies for coral restoration in the Caribbean
Project lead: Rita Sellares
Countries involved: USA, Netherlands Antilles, Dominican Republic
Supporting institutions: Fundación Dominicana de Estudios Marinos, Reef Renewal Bonaire, SECORE International Inc
Total budget: $1,388,943
Duration: 36 months
Most coral rehabilitation or restoration efforts in the Caribbean have focused on asexual propagation, or transplantation of coral tissue from Acroporids (often known as staghorn corals). Finding ways to integrate this kind of coral breeding alongside sexual reproduction of corals and optimising current techniques, making them more cost-effective for countries with limited resources, is necessary to repopulate reefs and to help increase their genetic diversity. This project will actively enhance the genetic pool of ecologically important coral species in the Dominican Republic and Bonaire (both in the Caribbean), ensuring their resilience by breeding corals in large numbers in nursery settings and transplanting them to degraded reefs. Their program actively involves local communities, and, specifically, the team is working with students, the tourism industry, dive centres and fishermen. In the past three years, the team have been able to upscale the production of coral recruits (floating coral larvae), seeding over 11,500 substrates with over 500,000 larvae to local reefs, the highest coral recruit production reported in the Caribbean region. If this success continues, this new methodological framework for coral restoration could be replicable across the region, lowering costs by half and at least doubling the number of recruits produced and increasing post-seeding survivorship.