CORAL RESTORATION

MARINER OCEAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE


Project RoCCS

Project RoCCS (Restoration of Coral using Ceramic Substrates) is an inter-institutional research project between the Mariner Ocean Research Institute and Wildwood Institute for STEM Research and Development.

Project Overview

Drawing down carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to stop and reverse further warming of the oceans will take decades, therefore short term solutions must be developed. One such solution is to replenish corals through propagation efforts.

Hard corals can be broken apart, or fragmented, into pieces that will grow into new colonies. Traditional fragmentation uses pieces of coral several inches long with many polyps; however, because the corals grow so slowly from this procedure, it’s not practical for widespread restoration. The discovery of a procedure known as microfragmentation” is looking promising for more rapid coral propagation, and we aim to quantify coral growth rates of microfragments of differing size.

Coral fragments must be anchored to a substrate for growth, and we are investigating ceramic 3D printing technology to create platforms onto which the microfragments can be adhered.

Research Questions

(1) Is the accelerated growth rate seen in microfragmented corals related the length of skeletal material in the fragment?

(2) How do growth rates for microfragments grown in the lab compare to published growth rates for species grown in tanks outside under natural sunlight or in protected ocean nurseries?

(3) Do different spacing patterns on the ceramic 3D printed base affect the growth rate of microfragments?

Ceramic 3D Printing

It is important that the platforms on which the coral fragments grow are not damaging to the environment. We will be fabricating our platforms out of clay using a ceramic 3D printer.

CAD Designs

The "platform" is the structure on which our coral fragments will be epoxied and grow.

In order to craft digital models for the project, we are using OnShape as our CAD software.

MORI Researchers

MORI Board:

  • Melanie P. '23– Chief Operations Officer

  • Luca G. '23– Chief Technical Officer

  • Toby A. '23– Senior Project Manager

  • Henry W. '23–Senior Research Scientist

MORI Research Scientists:

  • Serenity F. '24

  • Roman L. '25

MORI Consultants:

  • Ryan H. '19

  • Bryan L. UniqueCorals

WISRD Collaborators:

Izze S. '24

Esme W. '25

Luis P. '22

MORI Marine Laboratory

A recently renovated 650 square foot facility, the marine laboratory houses saltwater tanks (20 to 100 gallon) that are available for student research.

Microfragmentation

Cutting corals into smaller pieces containing only a few polyps has been anecdotally shown to cause faster growth than large fragments. The reason for observed accelerated growth is still unknown, but it may be similar to a wound response whereby tissue grows rapidly to protect itself from infection. Microfragments are approximately 1 square cm in size.

Species Under Consideration


Small Polyp Stony (SPS) Coral Species

Milka stylophora

Seriatopora

Pocilliopora

Coral Reefs: Why You Should Care

Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystem in the biosphere. They of provide shelter and protection for an estimated one-fourth of the ocean's fish. Coral reefs offer us important ecosystem services including subsistence food, coastline protection, and tourism.

The Problem: Coral Bleaching

The burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution has led to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing global temperature to rise. The oceans are a large sink for the heat. Rising sea surface temperatures trigger reef-building corals to release their algal endosymbionts (zooxanthellae) on whom they rely as a source of energy. As corals expel zooxanthellae, they lose their color and turn white, hence the term, “coral bleaching.”

Coral bleaching events have become more frequent and more severe since reports of the first mass bleaching event in Australia in 1998.

Spotlight on Restoration Projects Around the World

For decades, the Bahamas have implemented a model system for an effective approach to reef protection . The oldest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Bahamas is in the Exuma Cays, and it receives an encouraging reef health report card. The Bahamas host more than two dozen coral nursery areas that utilize traditional fragmentation methods.

St. Monica Catholic High School Director of Special Events and recreational SCUBA diver Vicky Landin, has visited the Exuma Islands coral nurseries, and she shares a few of her photos with the coral restoration group.

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