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worldwide coral reef conservation through research, education, outreach, and restoration

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Studying early life mortality of corals

It is known that mortality occurs mainly during the first month of a coral's life. Still, it is not yet precisely clear when it happens, and if the process of transferring them from either the lab or a CRIB (Coral Rearing In-situ Basin) to the natural reef may cause some of this mortality.

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Max and Driss attaching settlement tiles to the temporary nursery (Photo by Mike McCue)

Therefore, our three interns in Curaçao, Max van Aalst, Juliana Vanegas, and Driss Echeverria, recently conducted an exciting experiment studying the early mortality of the boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans). They aimed to determine if this mortality is associated with the outplanting phase, which involves a drastic change in habitat and handling of the delicate coral settlers. To investigate this question, they settled boulder brain coral on ceramic tiles and exposed them to three scenarios: rearing in controlled lab conditions, early outplanting to a nursery on the reef, and a handling control consisting of bringing corals to the reef and directly back to the lab. They then diligently monitored the survival of these settlers every day for one month.

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Max, Juliana, and Driss working in the lab (Photos by Lucas Ney)

The three young scientists recorded a drastic mortality event in the first 24 hours after outplanting that was not caused by handling the coral settlers, but rather by the change in habitat from lab to reef. Luckily, following this initial mortality, daily mortality rates for corals on the reef turned out to be lower than for those kept in the lab. This resulted in more live brain coral babies on the reef than in the lab at the end of their one-month experiment.

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Max, Juliana, and Driss preparing the temporary nursery (Photos by Lucas Ney and Mike McCue)

Although the transfer to the reef might cause early mortality, an early return to the reef may be beneficial compared to extended lab conditions. These are valuable findings that will help us increase the success of our future restoration efforts. Max, Juliana, and Driss, you did a fantastic job, and we were grateful to have you on our team in Curaçao during this year's spawning season!

 

 

 

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