Cost of a coral transplant project?

Les Kaufman lesk at
Fri May 21 22:01:27 EDT 1999

Dear David,

I hate to be a killjoy, and I don't know what kinds of responses you will
get from everybody else, but my hunch is that this is not the best
approach to the problem.  The USVI has a few shallow reefs remaining in
moderately decent condition, lots of very degraded reefs, and a great deal
of mixed hard bottom with scattered corals, sponges, and other organisms.
Betsy Gladfelter could probably direct you to the best available database
if you do not already have one.  So here's my suggestion.  Invest the same
funds (or hopefullly more) to institute conservation measures in a
high-priority area, rather than in a possibly futile effort at
reconstructing a lower-priority reefal assemblage like the one you seem to
be describing. Create a marine protected area someplace, or inject funds
into R&D on the adaptation of coral reef restoration methods in the USVI
someplace that makes sense.  Better yet, turn the funds to the
reestablishment of the West Indies Marine Laboratory, and direct its
mission toward ecological reconstruction of Tague Bay Reef and Buck Island
National Monument.  Anyway, Caroline Rogers or Betsy Gladfelter or John
Ogden are among the folks you want to talk to.

As for the problems with this idea (not that SOMETHING wouldn't happen no
matter what you did, and perhaps the translocated organisms would even
survive), there are many. First off, it would help if you said where this
channel is to go.  Most of the bottoms of the general sort that
you describe in the USVI also have appreciable densities of gorgonians
that may not take kindly to transplantation.  Second, given the short
distance that the corals et al. are to be transported, aren't the channel
building activities likely to kill them anyhow?  Third, the visible corals
and sponges are only a superficial portion of the community.  It's a
little bit like cutting off all the tops of the tallest trees, and
sticking them in the ground someplace else.  Again, not that some
beneficial effect wouldn't be realized, but it may not be the most
beneficial imaginable, and it may not be much of an effect to write home
about in the end.

So much has been lost in the USVI over the last 25 years, we've watched it
go.  Funds for coral reef conservation and restoration are so incredibly
limited.  This may be a chance to focus some resources so as to do the
most good in the best place.

Les Kaufman
Boston University Marine Program
lesk at
617-353-5560 office
617-353-6965 lab
617-353-6340 fax

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