In its simplest form, coral farming is the process whereby fragments of corals are collected from the local reefs, raised in nurseries until mature, and then installed at the restoration site. After decades of scientific, small-scale, and community-based projects around the world, coral farming has proved to be a viable method for restoring degraded reefs. With the advent of innovative coral farming techniques, now is the time to launch large-scale restoration efforts to revive and protect the valuable coral reef resources that are at risk.

Coral Farming to date

Coral farming is a process for growing coral fragments in nurseries and then planting them into their natural environment. A traditional coral farm is very much like an underwater garden, with row after row of corals growing in aquatic nurseries, under sunlight and with a constant flow of seawater. Coral farmers regularly tend the fragments in the nursery, and after months of care and maturation the corals are taken to a degraded reef, where they are installed by team members trained in restoration diving. By the time the divers are out of the water, the corals are already taking hold in the reef, forming a new foundation to support the bounty of life that will return to the once-degraded seascape.

This coral nursery, constructed by the Mauritius Oceanography Institute in the lagoon of Albion, attracted so many more fish before fragments were even installed into the reef that local fishermen set up their traps around the nursery. Prior to this project, the Albion reef was so degraded that fishermen were forced to travel around the island to gain their livelihoods. Photo credit: ELI Africa

This coral nursery, constructed by the Mauritius Oceanography Institute in the lagoon of Albion, attracted so many more fish before fragments were even installed into the reef that local fishermen set up their traps around the nursery. Prior to this project, the Albion reef was so degraded that fishermen were forced to travel around the island to gain their livelihoods. Photo credit: ELI Africa

Coral Vita's Method

The majority of coral farming projects today use ocean-based nurseries like the one pictured above. Ocean-based nurseries are appealing for small-scale restoration projects because they can be assembled at low cost and support fast-growing branching species like Staghorn and Elkhorn corals. Unfortunately, such nurseries don't offer an effective and scalable means for executing large-scale restoration projects. Coral Vita grows corals in land-based farms, which provide crucial advantages for the company and reef stakeholders.

This brain coral normally would take decades to reach such size in the wild. Through microfragmenting, this coral was grown by the Mote Marine Laboratory in a matter of months. Photo credit: Coral Vita

This brain coral normally would take decades to reach such size in the wild. Through microfragmenting, this coral was grown by the Mote Marine Laboratory in a matter of months. Photo credit: Coral Vita

Unlike ocean-based projects, land-based coral farming can use breakthrough techniques that allow for the faster growth of a more diverse array of corals. By using microfragmenting - a process pioneered by the Mote Marine Laboratory  - we can accelerate coral growth up to 50x natural rates. Many coral species that serve as critical building blocks for reefs (such as Brain or Great Star corals) grow too slowly to be feasible for restoration projects using ocean-based nurseries. Now, Coral Vita can grow these corals in months rather than decades.

Land-based coral farming enables the usage of assisted evolution techniques to improve coral resiliency to changing oceanic conditions that threaten reef health. Corals that are native to each restoration project can be raised to be more tolerant to threats such as warming temperatures or acidification, as we can control their growing conditions. Coral Vita advisors are leading experts in coral resiliency and accelerated growth methods, putting the company at the forefront of efforts to help reefs survive for future generations.

Farming corals on land further reduces risks that ocean-based nurseries are exposed to, such as storms, boating accidents, or warming events that can kill corals. Also, ocean-based farming limits the type of corals to the site-specific location of the nursery. Growing corals on land allows us to produce a range of native corals which meet the needs of a particular site, as Coral Vita can tailor water conditions that replicate those of restoration site. Sooner rather than later, Coral Vita's land-based farming offers a solution for large-scale degradation.

 

Banner photo credit: Smithsonian