Researchers Pinpoint Environments Where Corals May Thrive
One of the most important organisms facing the threat of global warming are corals. Beyond the livelihood of the coral itself, other sea creatures depend on coral reefs for food and shelter. Here in Florida, coral populations in the reef tract have tapered off considerably in the last three decades because of multiple stressors including salinity changes and extreme-temperature events that have led to coral bleaching, disease, and death.
To help the corals regain their crucial place in the ecosystem, the Florida Reef Resilience Program created 13 man-made coral nurseries in Florida waters ranging from Broward County to the Dry Tortugas to grow endangered coral such as Acropora cervicornis. The goal of the project is to transplant healthy corals grown at the nursery and introduce them to depleted reef systems. So far, the transplants have had various levels of success: some have survived in the transplant location, others have not.
That is where Florida Tech biology professor Robert van Woesik steps in. Van Woesik recently received a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to find very precise locations along the natural reef that are optimal for coral survival. He and his team will be looking at factors such as correct temperature and water flow conditions. Once locations have been pinpointed, the hope is that the corals grown at the nurseries will have better survival rates when relocated to these strategic areas.
Van Woesik’s work is relevant to Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan and Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative Implementation Goals to improve coral reef restoration and conserve Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) through planning and research.