[Coral-List] Views on Coral Garden Projects

Hernandez Edwin coral_giac at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 6 22:11:11 EST 2005

Dear Stephen and fellow listers.

Hola from Puerto Rico. It's a shame to hear such bad
news from Roatan after so much promotion of coral
gardens. Our Coral Reef Research Group at the
University of Puerto Rico-San Juan, has been engaged
with the Culebra Island Fishers Association,
Coralations and Sociedad Ambiente Marino in a
successful coral aquaculture and reef rehabilitation
project in Culebra Island for the last two years.

We established the Culebra Island Community-Based
Coral Aquaculture and Reef Rehabibilation Program in
April 2003 using plastic-covered wire mesh attached to
concrete bases to grow stahorn coral, Acropora
cervicornis. We are planning to use this methodology
to rehabilitate shallow-water juvenile fish nursery
ground areas in Culebra. Also, we will be launching in
2006 a reef rehabilitation initiative to restore
bomb-cratered coral reefs in Culebra that have not
recovered even after three decades from disturbance
(Hernandez and Sabat, in review).

We have achieved yearly surviving rates ranging from
85 to 99% through an adaptive management program. Our
pilot project has grown already over 2000 colonies. In
a separate project using even cheaper and lower
technology (nails and plastic straws) we have been
able to transplant harvested corals directly to the
reef benthos and had a 99.7% success during the first
year of the project.

Some of the lssons learned so far.

1. Avoid locations close to urban/tourist development.
Runoff events are capable of producing significant
localized mortality events (that have also affected
local reefs).

2. Disease or disease-like syndromes occur immediately
followig runoff events.

3. Disease or disease-like syndromes also occur
following blooms of unpalatable brown algae such as
Lobophora variegata and/or Dictyota spp. Algae can
trap sediment and algal/sediment contact seems to be
the source of initial mortality for the coral.

4. Although damselfishes, fireworms and corallivorous
snails are major suspected vectors of diseases such as
White Plague-Type II (Hernandez, in preparation), no
damselfishes were present in our farming sites when
disease/syndromes affected isolated colonies.

5. Fireworms and snails have sporadically preyed upon
some of our farm-raised corals, but no
disease/syndrome has followed predation.

6. A bloom in a white-plague like syndrome occurred
two weeks following tropical storm Jeanne (Sept. 2004)
and caused partial to complete colony mortality in
about 80% of A. cervicornis colonies in several
Culebra reefs, but only in a few farm-raised colonies.

7. Disease/syndrome mortality has been clone-specific,
and farming can allow to select for disease/syndrome
resistant clones (sorry, no genetic studies yet) from
different geographic locations.

These results were already presented at the 57th Gulf
and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Meeting at St.
Petersburg, FL last November. Two manuscripts are
being prepared for peer-reviewed journals.

I don't know absolutely anything about the Roatan
project. But I bet, factors such as depth, distance
from the shore, distance from potential runoff
sources, water quality (runoff pulses, sedimentation,
sewage outfalls, or septic tank leakages), and
sediment transport (sandblasting), or any combination
of the above, can be factors to consider when
attempting to determine possible mortality sources.

Also, factors such as water temperature, distance from
and location in relation to reef flats (where water
temperature can show significal diel variation) can
produce negative effects.

Also, I'm wondering if timing of source fragment
transplants had anything to do. My experience with A.
cervicornis suggests that it can be suicidal to
transplant cervicornis fragments between late spring
and late summer months (May-October).

1. Water temperatures are higher, thus more stressful.

2. Corals have already compromised most of its energy
into gonad development, thus reducing available energy
sources to repair tissue damage and to begin new
skeletal growth.

Our experience in Culebra is that transplants do
better when transplanting between December and April.
Actually, our next round of harvesting and transplants
will be carried out betweeen April 1 and 15.

Also, it is paramount that you re-examine your farming
unit structural design. A major lesson learned in
Culebra was also that the wider the room below the
wire mesh, the more fish grazing you'll have! Those
farms that have only about 8-10 cm below the mesh
required very frequent cleaning of algae (yes, by
hand). But those that have 30-40 cm have never been
cleaned in 1 year because fish grazing takes care of
algae! Also, contrary to low structures, no snails
have ever been observed in higher structures,
suggesting that snail predators could have been also
playing a major role. Moreover, fish recruitment rates
on higher structures is also higher.

Coral farming has a really outstanding potential to
empower base communities, fishing villages, NGOs,
resorts, etc. with a sustainable reef management tool
that will serve to restore essential fish habitats, an
entire coral functional group, and will attract
snorkelers as well. Also, local communities can be
easily trained to manage, protect and restore their
own reefs with low-tech sustainable methods, instead
of using humoungous artificial structures. It can
become a useful educational tool and an empowering
tool to foster coral reef conservation-oriented

Regarding Stephen concerns about getting rid of some
corallivorous species, there is a paper by Margaret
Miller et al.? 2003? in Coral Reefs about the
potential positive effect of managing snail densities
to reduce acroporid mortalities. I don't know about
Roatan, but in PR triggerfish species are HIGHLY
overexploited, and in spite of that, Diadema has only
been capable of bouncing back in very isolated
locations (Ruiz and Hernandez, in preparation), and A.
cervicornis keeps dying all around. Therefore, I don't
think there is a linear relationship among these. 

Thus, it doesn't seem to be a good idea start killing
animals when there is no clear clue about their
interactions with disease/syndrome outbreaks. Then,
instead of eliminating animals, why don't you consider
the possibility of engaging local communities into
establishing and managing a no-fishing MPA???? Such a
tool has been useful in restoring trophic webs in
coral reefs, and by restoring fish communities, you
should theoretically have a "balanced" community.
However, that is not linear and is not always true,
reef decline can occur even after no fishing
regulations (Hernandez and Sabat, accepted in Coral

It's a shame that promotion can often become more
significant than project's success.

We would like to share the Culebra Island experience
with other islands/nations in the Caribbean, but so
far efforts to fund possible cross-visits and training
sessions have resulted unsuccessful. Anyway, our
future efforts will include: 1) a large-scale
rehabilitation of shallow-water juvenile fish nursery
grounds; 2) rehabilitation of bomb-cratered coral
reefs; 3) test deepwater coral farming; 4) develop
farming methods for other major reef-building species.

If there is any person interested in knowing more
about the Culebra Island Community-Based Coral
Aquaculture and Restoration Program, or if any of you
is interested in the possibility of developing
low-tech coral aquaculture and reef rehabilitation
methods, do not hesitate to contact us.



--- Stephen Box <S.J.Box at exeter.ac.uk> wrote:
> Dear Coral List,
> The "Coral Gardens Project" is currently running
> pilot projects around the Bay 
> Islands in Honduras and doing a big promotional
> drive within the dive tourism 
> and resort sector.
> They are attempting to regenerate Acropora and
> Porites species by attaching 
> cuttings from adult colonies to bare reef substratum
> following a period of 
> "growing up" of the cuttings on racks or wires.
> Since there is little information in the literature
> about the validity of such 
> a scheme and their pilot on Roatan seems to have
> produced few viable results, 
> I was hoping that list subscribers may have personal
> anecdotes about whether 
> similar projects (across the Caribbean or the
> Pacific) have actually had any 
> measurable success, or if they just take resources
> and attention away from 
> other reef conservation initiatives.
> List subscribers views on other aspects recently
> promoted by the Coral Gardens 
> Project in Honduras such as; 
> the killing of Damsel fish and fire worms to prevent
> the spread of coral 
> disease and the killing of Trigger fish to allow
> urchin numbers to recover, 
> would also be appreciated.
> Regards,
> Steve
> Steve Box
> PhD Candidate
> Roatan
> Honduras
> Steve Box
> Marine Spatial Ecology Lab
> School of Biological Sciences
> University of Exeter
> Prince of Wales Rd
> Exeter   
> EX4 4PS
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

Edwin A. Hernandez-Delgado, Ph.D.

University of Puerto Rico
Department of Biology
Coral Reef Research Group
P.O. Box 23360
San Juan, P.R. 00931-3360
Tel (787) 764-0000, x-4880
Fax (787) 764-3875
e-mail: coral_giac at yahoo.com

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