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Coral gardening is a boon to Caribbean reefs

Coral gardening works, according to new research out of the University of Miami.

In a survey of coral restoration efforts, scientists found laboratory-raised coral fragments benefit native coral species when they’re used to repopulate struggling reefs. As well, the corals from which the fragments are removed don’t suffer as a result.

“Our study showed that current restoration methods are very effective,” lead study author Stephanie Schopmeyer, a biologist and coral expert at Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said in a news release. “Healthy coral reefs are essential to our everyday life and successful coral restoration has been proven as a recovery tool for lost coastal resources.”

In order to develop better benchmarks for coral restoration efforts, Schopmeyer and her colleagues analyzed the health of more than 1,000 Caribbean staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, colonies. The survey samples comprised 120 coral genotypes spread across six distinct geographical regions.

Analysis of coral restoration sites in Florida and Puerto Rico showed lab-raised coral behave like wild coral two years after being planted. The research also confirmed donor corals don’t suffer as a result of restoration efforts.

Researchers shared the findings of their survey this week in the journal Coral Reefs.

“Coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate and coral restoration programs are now considered an essential component to coral conservation and management plan,” said co-author Diego Lirman, a professor of marine biology and ecology at Rosenstiel. “Our findings provide the necessary scientific benchmarks to evaluate restoration progress moving forward.”

Corals serve as vital habitat for a range of species and serve as the anchor for rich and complex marine food chains. They are essential to marine ecosystems and a boon to humans, as they shelter many of the fish that feed commercial fish species. Coral reefs also provide valuable protection from hurricanes to coastal regions.

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