Nursery Grown Pyramids of Native Corals Now Restoring Natural Reefs, May 1, 2018Posted on May 1, 2018 in Latest Department News
(HONOLULU) – More than two years ago, workers from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources’ Ānuenue Coral Restoration Nursery on Sand Island Access Road embarked on a novel, first-of-its-kind endeavor, to “fast-grow” what are typically slow growing species of native Hawaiian coral species.
Hawai‘i has among the slowest coral growth rates in the world…damaged, injured, sick, or degraded corals can take years if not decades to recover, if they ever do. In both inside and outside tanks at the restoration nursery, small corals, mostly harvested from inside harbors are broken into very small pieces and then given the “5-Star treatment,” as coral ecologist David Gulko explains. He said, “They’re given the best food, the best lighting, the best water conditions and lots of tender loving care; all in an effort to grow them at a fast rate.” In the wild, Hawai‘i’s corals grow, on average, only one centimeter a year. Using 10-centimeter source fragments nursery staff grow 42 centimeter pyramids in 8-10 months.
As the team prepared to move pyramids from the kind and gentle waters of the nursery to the rough and tumble environment of the Pacific, they experimented with different sizes and shapes to try and come up with the optimal design. Gulko continued, “We learned the pyramid modules (which resemble apple pies that rose high above their pans) of 42 centimeters seem to withstand the high wave energy and less than pristine water conditions found in our near-shore reefs.”
Over the past year nursery workers have transported five pyramids to Sand Island State Park and then swim each pyramid out into the ocean. Using a specially formulated epoxy that they actually mix in the water and is shown to not negatively impact corals, they first clean an area, pat in the epoxy and affix the coral to the substrate. “We took a slow approach,” said Gulko, “because we wanted to work out all the bugs before starting to out-plant corals into natural reef environments, especially protected reef environments. With the out planting we’re doing now and the nursery nearly ready, we’re ready to start scaling-up to full production shortly.” He figures when that happens, with some newer tanks and newer systems, the nursery can produce 220 large, 42-centimeter pyramid modules each year.
In the first days after transplanting, the pyramids are checked frequently and then over time less often. Since they grow much slower in their natural environment than in the nursery, you won’t expect to see huge jumps in size in the short-term. However, at last check, the five pyramids now off Sand Island appear to be healthy and thriving. For Gulko and his team, this is not only exciting but proof of concept. This is the International Year of the Reef and it seems fitting that the work of the Ānuenue Coral Restoration Nursery is on the cusp of contributing to the recovery of near-shore reefs. This potentially means more fish biomass and higher numbers of invertebrates. Gulko remarked, “These corals are the basis of a healthy reef. It’s like having trees in the forest that provide shelter, shade, food, and nutrients that support a wide variety of animals and plants…they’re corals instead of trees.”
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(All images and video courtesy: Hawai‘i DLNR)
Ānuenue Coral Restoration Project Web Feature:
HD video and soundbites, coral out-planting: (shot sheet, transcriptions attached)
High-resolution photographs of coral out-planting:
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