Restoration Works

Building a Coral Nursery

We're talking about coastal habitat restoration and how these projects are changing the lives of people, improving economies, and repairing critical marine ecosystems. Celebrate how Restoration Works by learning more about these vital restoration projects and help us continue to protect and restore nature!

The Building Blocks of the Ocean 

Five miles off the coast of the Florida Keys, rows and rows of concrete blocks sit in what looks like a giant chess competition on the ocean floor. 

Atop each block rests a pedestal, and atop each pedestal sits a pinkie-sized piece of Acropora cervicornus – or staghorn coral. 

This innovative nursery, and restoration strategy, was mostly a theory a decade ago – could corals be grown and transplanted successfully?     

Why Coral Reefs Matter 

Staghorn and elkhorn coral are the main reef-building coral of the ocean. But for the past two decades, their species has been in decline due to impacts of climate change, invasive species and pollution. Their dramatic decline in the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas and U.S. Virgin Islands, by more than 97 percent, has led to their being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2006. 

Without these building blocks of the ocean, other coral types and reef systems cannot thrive, putting marine life and coastal economies at risk. 

Coral reefs, like other natural barriers including oyster reefs and mangroves, offer flexible, cost-effective, and sustainable risk reduction benefits. Reefs have a huge impact on the force of waves reaching coasts – they reduce wave energy by more than 85 percent – making them natural breakwaters and the first line of coastal defense for many communities. 

The Nature Conservancy and NOAA: Restoration Works 

The Nature Conservancy is a global leader in marine habitat restoration, and through a partnership with NOAA and others, has grown over 30,000 staghorn and elkhorn corals in eight nurseries along the Florida Keys. In 2012 we transplanted over 10,000 of the corals to new sites in waters around Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the largest restoration project of its kind. Scientists are now focused on re-establishing a genetically diverse family of corals on the reefs in the Keys, to ensure as wide a range of genotypes as possible for natural selection to act upon in the wild. 

If keystone corals like staghorn and elkhorn can be restored, other marine ecosystems – and ultimately people – will benefit through recreation and other ocean-based economies. 

Help us continue our innovative coral restoration strategies.

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