Curaçao, in the southern Caribbean, has been a center of SECORE's research and capacity-building activities for many years. In close collaboration with the CARMABI Marine Research Station, much of our cumulative knowledge on how and when to collect coral spawn and how to culture the larvae of different species successfully has been built in Curaçao.
In addition to key, ongoing contributions in design and evaluation of SECORE’s developing coral restoration tools (engineering coral restoration), SECORE’s current research in Curaçao is focused on coral early life history.
- How to restore the endangered elkhorn coral: Once the elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, dominated the shallow waters in many Caribbean reefs and protected the coast as a natural wave breaker. Now, it is listed critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2010, we initiated a research project together with the CARMABI Foundation and the Curaçao Sea Aquarium to better understand sexual reproduction of this endangered coral species. The first outplanted corals have been spawning naturally with their ‘wild’ neighbors since 2015 (Laboratory-bred corals reproduce in the wild). Protocols on how to rear this key species are now translated into larger scale restoration efforts (Mass-reared elkhorn corals are thriving on the reef).
- Recruiting additional species for coral restoration: Several hardier reef-building coral species have separate male and female colonies (called gonochoric), thus presenting greater challenge in developing successful methods for collecting these gametes. The great star coral, Montastraea cavernosa, and the round starlet coral, Siderastraea siderea, are two examples that are targets of current research. The brooder Porites porites, also known as Clubtip finger coral, releases larvae and not egg and sperm cells and requires other collection approaches as well.
- ‘Are younger corals better parents?’: Because natural coral recruitment has been failing over a long period of time in some Caribbean reefs, many potential parent corals are extremely old. Over a very long life span involving millions or perhaps billions of cell divisions, small genetic mistakes may accumulate in these parents and yield offspring with lower fitness. This life history research project owith elkhorn corals is a collaboration with Dr. Iliana Baums (Baumslab Penn State University) and could change restoration practices considerably, see more at coral resilience and applied genetics (link).
- Grazing by black sea urchins benefits coral restoration: As an effective grazer of coral reefs, Diadema antillarum urchins have historically served as facilitators for coral recruitment in the Caribbean. Following a massive die-off in the early 1980’s, their population levels remain extremely low in most places. Our research in Curaçao is specifically testing how urchin grazing may improve the quality of benthic habitat, including seeding units for baby corals.
- As of Dec 2019, tens of thousands corals of 8 species (Acropora palmata, A.cervicornis, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Colpophyllia natans, Orbicella faveoata, Montastraea cavernosa, Siderastrea siderea) have been outplanted on 9 reefs around Curaçao.
- Since 2015, the first outplanted elkhorn corals have spawned in concert with the wild populations on the reefs.
- Life history research in Curaçao has greatly facilitated the inclusion of additional coral species, especially brain corals, into general larval propagation and restoration practice.
- Test site for new tools and techniques such as larval rearing pools and substrates. More species and more corals have been propagated in ocean-based culture in Curaçao than in any other Caribbean location.
- Our research results are translated into applied protocols and methods that are an important basis for reef conservation in general and for new SECORE project locations elsewhere. In the annual training and field expeditions we share our knowledge with stakeholders and practitioners (e.g. best restoration practice by the CRC genetic working group, see blow).
- Laboratory-bred corals reproduce in the wild, Sciencedaily
- CARMABI Marine Research Station
- Baumslab, Penn State University
- Status of Caribbean reefs by NOAA
- IUCN Red List of endangered species: the critically endangered elkhorn coral
- Recovery of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum promotes scleractinian coral growth and survivorship on shallow Jamaican reefs
- Best restoration practice recommendationby the Coral Restoration Consortium