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“I’m dreaming of a nationwide restoration program” – WS Mexico

- Mexico 2015
The elkhorn coral had once been the dominant reef-building coral in Mexico’s Caribbean reefs. However, since the late 1970s this key species has suffered severe decline due to diseases and human-made disturbances. In an attempt to reverse this decline, a nation-wide restoration program is needed, says UNAM scientist Dr. Anastazia Banaszak.

The SECORE science board member has formed a network of researchers, students, aquarium specialists, and governmental institutions that want to make this happen. In the following interview she explains, what has been reached so far.

[20150802 Day 7 Set 1]

SECORE: Ania, in your workshop introduction this week you said, it takes many people to restore coral reefs. Whose help and support are needed along the Mexican Caribbean coast to save reef key species such as the elkhorn coral?

Ania: The more people you get involved in reef restoration, the better, because we are not just talking about restoring reefs in terms of coral species. You also need to consider other important factors such as fish species for instance. Healthy grouper and shark populations are essential for a functioning reef ecosystem. That is why I’m dreaming of a nationwide Mexican reef restoration program that includes all players – among them lead institutions such as universities, National Park Commissions, Fisheries, research institutions and independent experts such as the SECORE foundation, all working together with the local communities. Most of them have already joined our network, so we have all the elements it takes, to do reef restoration along the Mexican Caribbean coast.

That sounds like reef conservation work does start with a lot of communication and networking. Doesn’t it?  

Oh yes. As a scientist you have to talk to the local experts get a clear picture about the state of the reefs. Our partners in the National Parks for instance go out into the field daily and know their reefs inside out, but none or very little of their amazing knowledge is published. We have ten National Parks with elkhorn coral populations along the coast. That means, there isn’t this one person that has all the information. We need to go to each park individually instead and talk to the people, who are going out daily and ask them.

What do you need to know to develop a restoration plan?

What we basically want to know is: Where are the colonies of key reef-building species such as the elkhorn coral Acropora palmata or Mountainous boulder corals such as Orbicella faveolata? Where have there been disease outbreaks or bleaching and how often? How often do these areas experience hurricanes? Are there ship groundings or any contamination problems? You need to have all that information, because form there you can basically work out, what are the important coral reproduction sites, what are the critical areas that need most attention. Together we can work out how to solve those problems. However, one of the most important things is: There is no one answer. Every single park has its own specific issues and logistics and the solutions have to be tailor made. A one-size-fits-all method definitely does not work.

[20150802 Day 7 Set 3]

If you look at the progress your project has had: Would you say, all this work actually pays off?

Definitely. Slowly but surely, as more people are coming in the ‘coral restoration network’ that we are setting up, we are extending our registry of coral spawnings. We used to only have a data base for just here at a reef right in front of the UNAM field station in Puerto Morelos. Then, as the network expanded, we have added observations and gamete collections from other reefs along the Mexican Caribbean. That means, our network is almost covering the whole central coast.

Together with the National Parks’ experts we have determined which sites will be good for establishing coral nurseries for restoration, because any kind of restoration is going to need some kind of nursery, even if it just is for a short period. Additionally we successfully out-planted sexually reproduced elkhorn coral recruits in one of the reefs close to Cancun, that had been destroyed by a ship grounding. After four years in the reef, these recruits have grown into colonies that reach a height of 15 centimeters, which makes us very happy.

And with international restoration workshops like the one we are just having, we are bringing together coral experts from all over the world, learning from each other and teaching young marine biologists, what we have learned so far. At the same time we are all inspired from the many discussions – an amazing experience.

[20150802 Day 7 Set 4]

What are the next challenges you want to face?

With our reproduction methods working on small scales, we now have to upscale our restoration techniques to actually induce a re-growth of the coral cover with the help of SECORE. This is an enormous effort, which cannot be done by a single group only. It has to be a nationwide initiative, which is why I’ll keep fighting for a broader coral conservation network and an official Mexican program for coral restoration. 

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