An innovative new technique for cleaning farmed corals is giving researchers more time on the reefs and less time scrubbing. Inspired by nature, researchers in the Seychelles have found that by sending corals to the ‘cleaners’ before transplanting them to the reef, corals have a greater chance of survival.
The Reef Rescue Project started in 2010 as a way to help restore El Niño bleached reefs around the Seychelles Islands and was the first large-scale coral restoration project in the Seychelles. Five years later, there is a total of eight rope nurseries growing 40,000 fragments of corals. Growing corals in these rope nurseries can take six months to a year, depending on the species, before they can be transplanted to the reef.
The rope nurseries are floated in mid-water, 8m (26 feet) below the surface, and are the perfect settling ground for algae, and bio-fouling invertebrate organisms like barnacles. The rope nurseries are checked and cleaned daily as a measure to keep down this unwanted growth, resulting in a considerable amount of time spent underwater.
When it came time to replant the corals, researchers noticed that even with their best effort to clean the ropes, reef fish were knocking over 16% of newly cemented corals as they swam through munching at the biofouling organisms. This resulted in even more time spent underwater, not only cleaning the rope, but then also trying to reattach the corals.
In an article published last month, Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres Coordinator of the Reef Rescuers Program, and Casper van de Geer Project Manager at Local Ocean Trust found that by placing portions of rope 30 cm (12 inches) off the seabed before transplanting to the reef, coral dislodgment went from 16% to zero. However, it seems the clean up crew would only work on the rope slightly above the seabed, and did not graze on the ropes placed above 30 cm high.
The cleaning station technique mimics natural ocean cleaning stations where crews of reef fish pick and preen at larger fish removing unwanted parasites, or in this case removing barnacles, invertebrates and other organisms from the growing corals. Cleaning nurseries to remove biofouling organisms such as algae and invertebrates is a major step prior to transplantation, and work to prepare corals for transplant requires a significant time investment in the project.
For those looking to get more involved, Nature Seychelles is offering a 6 week long Reef Rescuers Training course. However, you may need to wait until 2016 to attend.