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Report lists priority actions for recovery of key coral species in the Caribbean

- Announcement
The reactivation of monitoring programs and the scaling up of coral restocking efforts on Caribbean reefs are two out of 16 priority actions, which the US-Acropora Recovery Implementation Team (ARIT), led by SECORE Research Director Dr. Margaret Miller, has identified in its first annual report.

The report was presented to the public yesterday at the US Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Washington, DC.

ARIT was created in 2017 to advise NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office on progress and needs within the context of the Acropora Recovery Plan, released in 2015. ARIT consists of scientists and members of governmental and non-governmental organizations, who are experts on staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, and elkhorn coral, Acropora palmate, along with the stressors that threaten these reef building species.

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An elkhorn coral colony growing on a reef close to Puerto Morelos, Mexico (Paul Selvaggio)

Both coral species were once among the most abundant corals in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, forming dense thickets and substantially contributing to accretion of reef habitat. However, since the 1980s, drastic declines throughout their range resulted in their 2006 listing as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since then, coral bleaching and disease outbreaks have continued their decline.  

“Substantial reductions in efforts to curb climate change such as the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and the US departure from The Paris Agreement, signify backward steps in the potential recovery of these corals. Coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, both linked to climate change, are key threats to these species’ survival,” says ARIT team leader Margaret Miller.

To promote coral recovery ARIT identifies 16 actions from the Recovery Plan, seven of which are high priorities that need to be implemented in the near term. “The team chose to prioritize both actions that are of highest importance in promoting recovery, such as those related to climate change, as well as actions that are most obtainable in the near to medium term, such as improving the implementation of research on specific pollutants in regulations that can protect corals from these stressors,” Margaret Miller says.

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SECORE Research Director Dr. Margaret Miller (SECORE International)

One of the priority actions identified in the ARIT annual report, calling for developing proactive enhancement of climate resilience in Acropora corals is particularly timely. This topic has been under growing debate in research and management communities as the state of coral reefs becomes increasingly dire. The potential and risks of more drastic human interventions such as selective breeding or pumping cold water onto heated reefs are the topic of a new review study being undertaken by an expert committee of the US-National Academy of Sciences.

“The NAS panel’s expert judgement will be highly influential in the future incorporation (or rejection) of potential novel interventions in coral restoration,” Miller notes.

When and if the likely benefits are judged to outweigh risks of such interventions, SECORE’s current work in upscaling larval restoration effectiveness may prove to be a major contributor to their effective implementation.

ARIT’s annual report can be downloaded here: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/coral/documents/annual_report_2017.pdf

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SECORE divers collect staghorn coral gametes with specificalls designed nets. (Barry Brown)

 

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