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'Comprehensive' Reef Coral Restoration Started At The Florida Aquarium

Dec 9, 2019

Come Monday, a national consortium of environmental groups will begin a major effort to transplant coral to South Florida's reefs.

The project is helmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Ocean Service. But it wouldn't be possible without Tampa's Florida Aquarium, which earlier this year became the first to successfully induce Atlantic coral to spawn in a laboratory.

The aquarium will be front and center in this effort. The aquarium's Director of Conservation, Amber Whittle, says this approach will be more holistic than what has been done in the past.

"It would be, in scale and in cost, it is unprecedented. Even internationally," Whittle said.

The aquarium has been active in transplanting coral for several years. But this will happen on seven tracts, and include more than just transplanting. They would clear algae that has overgrown some of the sites, and have divers periodically check to see that the algae isn't growing back.

Part of that algae problem is a lack of plant-eating species on the reef. So in addition to the coral transplanation, the aquarium will provide long-spined sea urchins, which are also grown in their Apollo Beach lab. Other groups will provide another herbivore, the Carribean King Crab.

"It's comprehensive," Whittle said, "which has not been happening to date."

Whittle said in the '60s and '70s, there was 70% coral cover on the reef, but that has dwindled to 2%.  The coral has come under attack by warming and more acidic seas, and land-based pollution such as runoff.

The project's other partners include the Coral Restoration Foundation; Florida Department of Environmental Protection; FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute; Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota; Reef Renewal; and the Nature Conservancy.
 

Florida Aquarium biologist Keri O'Neil checks out staghorn coral in the greenhouse in Apollo Beach
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media