Our efforts are part of the Reversing the Decline of Bahamian Coral Reefs Program, led by Perry Institute for Marine Sciences, and The Nature Conservancy’s Coral Innovation Hub. Together with our partners we conduct coral larval restoration research and pilot its applications in the Bahamas.
Major focus is to study the potential for hardy parents to breed hardy offspring that can better cope with climate change. Thereby, our collaborators and we are pursuing two approaches:
- Why are some coral doing so well in high-stress environments, while their counterparts offshore are dying? Patch reefs located close to coastal development often fare poorly, but on the island of Abaco is proving the exception, boasting large, relatively healthy colonies of the mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata). To reveal why, we use genetic tools, conduct temperature induced stress as well as crossing experiments.
- Are hybrid coral species hardier corals? There is preliminary evidence that hybrid corals may be more resilient in a changing environment. We study the hybrid of elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis), A. prolifera, which is relatively abundant in Bahamian reefs.
Our collaborators on these studies about coral resilience and applied genetics are the University of Southern California, University of Miami and University of North Carolina Wilmington. Our joined research will not only reveal how particular corals with certain characteristics may be used for local restoration, but how corals in general have evolved to cope with climate change and other stressors. These findings will be an important basis for practitioners throughout the Caribbean to start integrating climate change aspects into coral restoration work
Gained knowledge is shared in joined workshops on coral reproduction and restoration that are held annually at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and elsewhere in the Caribbean. In 2016, during the initial workshop, elkhorn coral recruits were successfully produced in the Bahamas for the first time.
Why do we need restoration in the Bahamas? The Bahamas are known for its brilliant blue waters and pink sand beaches, and feature one of the largest reefs in the Caribbean. Sadly though, Bahamian corals have suffered the same fate as others throughout the region: dramatic declines due to disease, pollution, and climate change (status of Caribbean coral reefs by NOAA). Recent surveys of reefs in The Bahamas have shown a decline in coral coverage to an average of only 10-15% compared to a few decades ago―depending on reef zone―and high coverage of seaweed. Bahamian reefs suffer the same problems as most reefs in the Caribbean, but to add up to the already long list of challenges for coral survival the waters around the Bahamas Islands are mostly shallow. This means, water temperature raises more easily, leading to extensive algal growth, in turn fostered by elevated nutrient levels, and reoccurring coral bleaching.
This project complements other approaches to restore coral populations, such as in situ nurseries and micro-fragmentation, increase grazing by restoring Diadema populations and protecting parrotfish, and the creation of marine protected areas to cover 20% of the nearshore waters of The Bahamas.
Cape Eleuthera Institute
Bahamas National Trust
Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation
Perry Institute for Marine Sciences
The Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean
title photo: Craig Dahlgren, Perry Institute for Marine Sciences