Image from The Nature Conservancy
Even though many hobbyists might not be too pleased with Florida’s response to the aquarium hobby, you have to give them credit for making an attempt at restoring both staghorn (Acropora cervicornus) and elkhorn (A. palmata) corals. A recent Nature Conservancy magazine article highlights these efforts made by Floridian agencies (which have partnered up with The Nature Conservancy), as well as describes the current issues faced by these corals. Both the elkhorn and staghorn are native to Caribbean waters, and both have been in steep decline over the past several decades. The National Marine Fisheries Service even estimates that these corals have declined by more than 97% in many areas. The reason for their decline can be attributed to multiple factors spanning several decades. For starters, the sea urching die off of the 1980s played a crucial role. Following that, severe hurricanes and increased ocean temperatures further sent the already stressed coral populations into a downward spiral. Florida has responded to the massive loss of corals by implementing a large-scale coral nursery, which started in 2004.
The coral nurseries are a simple concept. They work by taking fragments of corals off wild colonies nearby and growing them in a nursery. Once they reach a sustainable size, the coral frags are then “outplanted” (their term, not mine) onto existing reefs where coral population is in decline. However, these nurseries have experienced a few issues of their own. Earlier this year, Florida experienced very cold temperatures, even in the southern-most portions of the state. The unusually cold weather caused massive coral loss in the nurseries and on the wild reefs. To decrease the impact of cooler weather, the program was postponed until April, when things started to get a little warmer.
There are two associated articles associated with this story, and both of them are great reads, though somewhat redundant to each other. For these articles and more information on the coral nurseries, please see The Coral Nursery and Florida Stimulating Coral Restoration.