Underwater Nurseries Grow Threatened Corals. To date we have grown tens of thousands of corals in nursery locations throughout Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and have outplanted over 14,000 colonies to degraded reefs in the same region.
Staghorn and elkhorn coral were once one of the most abundant corals on Caribbean and Floridian reefs but have suffered catastrophic declines since the late 1970s. Today they are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A great deal of effort has been made to educate the public on the importance of reefs and to alleviate human-induced threats, but this may not be enough to bring our reefs back to life.
Due to the importance of staghorn and elkhorn as a fast-growing reef builder, the Conservancy began working with a Key Largo- based partner, Coral Restoration Foundation to grow this species in an underwater nursery in an effort to restore them to their former abundance. These types of corals use breakage as a reproductive strategy so we can capitalize on this by creating hundreds or thousands of genetic clones from one wild parent colony. With this ability to exponentially increase the number of corals in the nursery, we can outplant corals to the reef continually while maintaining a breeding stock.
The restoration project has since expanded to include sites in Dry Tortugas National Park west of Key West, the lower and middle Florida Keys, Biscayne National Park and reefs from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands. By working with partners throughout the region, this project has the ability to impact the species throughout its range in Florida.