Coral program in 2016. This project is in collaboration

Coral
reefs are one of the most important ecosystems on our planet and they are also
one of the most threatened. Unfortunately, reef degradation has reached
a point where natural recovery processes and local conservation strategies may
be ine?ective in preserving and restoring the biodiversity and long-term
integrity of coral reefs. Twenty years of long-term monitoring by our facility
has documented a significant loss in coral cover and diversity of Roatan’s
reefs. This degradation can be attributed to anthropogenic and natural
disturbances including, hurricanes, bleaching events, nutrient and sediment
input, overfishing, and disease.

 

In response to this steady decline and the recognition that coral
reefs may not be able to recover naturally without human intervention, our
facility initiated a coral restoration program in 2016. This project is in
collaboration with the Roatan Marine Park, a community based, non-profit
organization, which receives the majority of its financial support from the
local dive industry. Fourteen suspended “coral trees” with over 1000 corals of
30 different genotypes were installed in our nursery. This method was chosen
based on its low cost, and ease of installation and maintenance. Initial
efforts focused on two species, Acropora
cervicornis and Acropora palmata.

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These species have su?ered signi?cant degradation in the Caribbean with
estimated population declines of up to 95% in some areas. These species are
critically important for reef growth, ?sheries habitats, and coastal protection
and it is unlikely that any other species is capable of ful?lling these speci?c
ecosystem functions in the Caribbean.

 

In the past two years the nursery corals have shown
significant growth and more than 90% out-planting survival. With the success of
phase one demonstrated, it is time to move into the second phase. The funding
requested in this proposal is to implement this second phase which will involve
larger scale expansion, the addition of new species, and a more rigorous out-planting
effort, all while maintaining the low maintenance cost of phase one.  

 

Unfortunately a large problem hindering restoration programs
in the past has been the high financial costs. Money has often been available
for the initial investment but revenue for continuing the program has been more
difficult to secure. This proposal aims to secure financial support through the
involvement of local stakeholders outside the scienti?c and management
community. This project proposes that by using low cost methods, involving the
recreational diving sector, and training the island community in alternative
livelihoods, a financially sustainable restoration program can be achieved.

 

The success of this program will be largely dependent on the
support and participation of tourists and the recreational diving community of
which our island economy is so dependent. Recreational divers will be able to
take a PADI Distinctive Specialty Course to become a Coral Restoration Diver
(in development).  These courses will be
offered through our facility, the Roatan Marine Park and supporting dive shops
and will provide participants with training in nursery maintenance, coral
fragmentation and out-planting techniques. Once the course is complete, divers
become part of a valuable team of volunteers that will keep the project in
operation. The fee for this course will help make this program financially
sustainable and will increase public awareness and education by actively
involving divers in reef restoration. 

 

The success of this restoration program will also be dependent
on the level of local community involvement. The income generated from the restoration
training courses will go not just towards the purchase of nursery materials,
but also to provide alternative livelihood options. By providing an income
potential for trained islanders, this program will help raise their responsibility
as local reef stakeholders

The ultimate goal is to see this program become operated and
managed with strong participation of the local island community so they can
help to restore and manage their own local reef resources.

 

With the utilization of low-tech, cost-e?cient methods, important
reef stakeholders like the recreational diving sector and local island communities
can conduct restoration activities to restore and protect their local reefs, and
promote community-based reef management through continued public education and
awareness, and insure project continuity beyond the initial funding this grant
would provide. Thus, the adoption and support by dive shop operators, resort
owners, and the local island communities will be key components to the
long-term success of this restoration program. It is also important to note
that this restoration program will be conducted in conjunction with the
management and conservation practices of the Roatan Marine Park and may potentially
serve as a complementary management tools for the rehabilitation of Roatan’s
reefs.

 

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