Coral Nursery Notes: Bleaching our corals on clotheslines

Slide1No, not really!! But we do have a new clothesline style nursery and there has been a lot of bleaching this season, so it is not a totally misleading headline.

Welcome to Coral Nursery Notes. The purpose of creating this special thread in the blog is to keep the interested folks up to date on what’s happening with our little reef restoration project. We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of good direction and advice along the way, and we’ve learned some lessons too. Here’s a little history on the project. We’ll try to keep the reads brief and exciting!

Volunteers are appreciated. Our partnership with Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration continues to be very beneficial for our restoration project and for the students that are smart enough to go on one of those SUSiE cruises. In July of 2015, Dr. Robin Smith and his team of students did an awesome job of cleaning the nursery and explanting many corals, both elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and stag horn (Acropora cervicornis/prolifera), onto the reef. They inspected the efforts made the previous summer with some satisfaction that indeed, it is all worthwhile. Though still small, the corals are surviving and getting established on the reef.

We’re a part of a bigger picture. We have a new partnership with the Bahamas National Trust through their emerging Reversing the Decline of Coral Reefs in The Bahamas program. Dr. Craig Dahlgren visited Elizabeth Harbour over the summer and worked with us to set up a line nursery, stocking it with samples of coral from nearby reefs. We’re excited to be a part of a larger initiative that aims to conserve reefs throughout the Bahamas.

And now the bad news…the corals in Elizabeth Harbour are bleaching. This year has been called one of the worst El Nino events in recorded history and corals are already suffering. Here’s a good recap of what coral bleaching is and how it, along with other stressors, can negatively affect corals. We’re seeing it here in Elizabeth Harbour and hoping that our reefs are not devastated. How daunting is it to you to know that these global warming events can wipe out entire reef systems, and leave algal covered rocks in their wake? Degraded habitat for fish and other species means less diversity and resilience on coral reefs. Less color, less beautiful fish, less life. Reefs that are suffering from local stressors like pollution and overfishing are particularly doomed as explained by scientist Nancy Knowlton in a Washington Post article:

“No reefs that experience unusually warm waters are likely to escape unscathed, but reefs already suffering from overfishing and pollution may have a particularly rough time recovering, based on what we have learned from past bleaching events.”

Within this statement, there is a glimmer of hope. There’s something we can do to help  boost the ability of coral reefs in Elizabeth Harbour to recover from bleaching events. The coral reef nursery and nearby reefs are located in the boundaries of the Moriah Harbour Cay National Park. If we take conservation and park boundaries seriously, we could give our coral patients a helping hand by not overfishing and polluting the waters. The corals sure have done a lot for us. Here’s a lot more info on the science of coral reef resilience if you’re interested. 

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