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Coral Culturing: A low-tech solution for open coasts

Deploying SECORE’s coral rearing pools on open coastlines can be a challenge due to wind and waves. To up-scale reef restoration nonetheless, SECORE and its Mexican partner UNAM have developed a new land-based culturing system. It is easy to build, does not cost a fortune and might become an important tool for local restoration practitioners.

In Puerto Morelos, Mexico, as in other tropical regions, one will find neither sheltered lagoons nor wind-protected bays along the coastline. This circumstance makes culturing coral babies in SECORE’s floating larval rearing pools rather challenging during certain periods of the year because wind and waves along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula may be too strong to successfully deploy the blue coral kindergartens. In many locations, if there is a sheltered bay, it may receive freshwater runoff and experience high temperature fluctuations that are not good for baby corals.


UNAM’s Aquarium Technician Eden Magaña Gallegos (left) and SECORE´s Restoration Technician Sandra Mendoza Quiroz (right) designed and developed the new culturing system. (Elisa Yajaira Chan Vivas)


Motivated by this geographical hurdle, SECORE’s Mexican restoration partner Dr. Anastazia Banaszak and her team at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) developed a new land-based culturing system that might become an important tool for efficient coral reef restoration in wind-ridden regions of the world: “Our new system follows SECORE’s and UNAM’s joint low-tech and low-cost approach,” says Anastazia Banaszak. “We bought all the parts locally, which makes it easier for other groups to copy our approach and build their own coral culturing system without spending a fortune.”

The new culturing system – designed and developed by UNAM’s Aquarium Technician Eden Magaña Gallegos and SECORE´s Restoration Technician Sandra Mendoza Quiroz – has been installed in UNAM’s former wet laboratory and consists of a two huge metal shelves that hold 14 big plastic containers in two rows each for a total of 28 larval culturing systems. PVC pipes connect the containers in the two-story-system so that each tank can be filled automatically with seawater pumped directly from the ocean. Draining the containers is easily done as well. Furthermore, each container is fitted with aeration, which helps to keep the settled larvae alive and happy.


Past and Present: Up until 2018, the UNAM team used a small number of containers for coral culturing that had to be filled and drained by hand (left). The new culturing system installed in 2019 consists of two metal shelves that carry 28 boxes. The system fits perfectly into UNAM’s old wet laboratory and offers sufficient workspace for more than two restoration practitioners. (Paul Selvaggio, UNAM)


“We know that we cannot compare our coral culturing system to the high-class aquarium systems that institutions like the Florida Aquariums or others have running for long-term maintenance of corals,” Anastazia Banaszak states. “But last year’s experiences show that it works really well for culturing baby corals for a few weeks before we outplant them onto the reef.” In summer 2019, the scientists raised as many larvae in their system as they could have cultured in two SECORE pools, making the land-based system a viable alternative to the pools.


A very successful evolution for up-scaling restoration

Restoration research done by Anastazia Banaszak and Sandra Mendoza shows that sexually produced coral babies have a much higher chance of survival on the reefs of Puerto Morelos if they are kept for a longer grow-out period in the culturing system or in a nursery to reach a bigger size before they are transferred to the reef. This circumstance makes local reef restoration along the Yucatan Peninsula more laborious than for instance in Curaçao, where SECORE’s field team cultures their millions of coral larvae in floating rearing pools and outplants the coral babies shortly after settlement straight from the pools. Anastazia Banaszak: “We know that we need to handle a lot more corals here in Puerto Morelos if we want to up-scale our local reef restoration activities. Our new culturing system really helps us to do exactly that.”

And it can be upscaled too. If space and seawater are available, the number of shelves and containers can be easily increased. Last summer’s test run also showed that the lab crew was able to control environmental parameters such as water temperature, salinity, pH, and the number of harmful bacteria much better than in the past. “And since we don’t waste our energy by filling and draining tanks by hand with buckets, we have way more time to focus on our research and do experiments to find out how to improve restoration techniques, which is our main objective. So, it has been a very successful evolution,” says the scientist.  

Anyone interested in how the system was designed and built, please contact project lead Anastazia Banaszak.


Text: Sina Löschke

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