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Nursery Program for Corals Receives TLC From NOAA This Independence Day

Stimulus Funding To Greatly Expand Reef Restoration Efforts in Florida, U.S. Virgin Islands

corals University of Miami scientist Dr. Diego Lirman makes sure new staghorn coral fragments are safely installed at the underwater nursery in Biscayne National Park. Established in 2007, the nursery already has more than 500 coral fragments that are being nurtured and used to restore depleted local reefs. Stimulus funding from NOAA will help to expand this and other existing nursery projects in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the next three years, and allow for the creation of four new nurseries in the region.

Credit: C. Hill

Virginia Key, Fla. — As the nation celebrates its birth on the 4th of July, University of Miami (UM) Research Assistant Professor Diego Lirman and fellow Caribbean coral reef nursery scientists will be celebrating as well.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today announced that The Nature Conservancy and its partners’ staghorn and elkhorn coral recovery project, including Lirman’s nursery in Biscayne National Park, will receive support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to further develop large-scale, in-water coral nurseries and restore reefs along Florida’s southern coast and in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

The Nature Conservancy will serve as coordinator of the overall project, working with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, as well as other academic, government and private entities to help repopulate local reef areas. The centerpiece of the proposed activities is the significant expansion of the four existing staghorn nurseries found between Broward County and the Lower Florida Keys, and the establishment of additional nurseries in the Dry Tortugas and the USVI. In all, the project will grow roughly 12,000 corals in Florida to enhance coral populations at 34 degraded reefs in the region.

Lirman, in UM’s Marine Biology and Fisheries division, established a staghorn coral nursery within Biscayne National Park in 2007. This nursery presently holds approximately 500 fragments, and nursery fragments have already been used to restore four reefs where staghorn corals were depleted. The proposed plan includes expansion of fragment stocks (thousands at this site) and the restoration of eight additional reefs over the next three years.

Florida boasts one of the planet’s most significant coral reef ecosystems. Once abundant and productive marine habitat builders in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn coral and elkhorn coral suffered severe population declines due to coral bleaching, diseases, hurricane damage, and other threats.  Both corals were designated as threatened species under the authority of the Endangered Species Act in 2006.  With the ability to produce numerous branches that can each grow four or more inches a year, these corals are well suited for nursery propagation and restoration efforts.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.  To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. 

Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit www.rsmas.miami.edu

Media Contacts:

Barbra Gonzalez
UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
305.421.4704
barbgo@rsmas.miami.edu
Marie Guma-Diaz
UM Media Relations Office
305.284.1601
m.gumadiaz@umiami.edu

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noaa •  diego lirman •