Raising Coral Costa Rica
 
 

A Human-Coral
Symbiosis 

 
 
 
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We connect people
with the corals.

We are launching a campaign in 2019 to propagate and outplant at least 1000 corals in the Golfo Dulce.  You can help us with a donation, or by participating in our 1000 Corals for Costa Rica Campaign Celebration in San Jose, Costa Rica (date and venue will be posted here soon, but we are planning for late February/early March).  If you are interested in sponsoring or attending this event, please contact us.

 
 
 
 
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We grow corals in nurseries.

We begin with healthy corals that survived the recent El Niño.  We take a small sample (< 10%), and use a technique called “microfragmenting” to cut the sample into many small pieces.  For massive and encrusting corals, we glue those small pieces onto ceramic discs as a substrate they can grow on.  For branching corals, we take a small (1-2 cm long) branch and suspend it in the nursery with monofilament line (like a Christmas tree ornament).

 
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We plant them back onto the reef.

After about 6 months, the corals have grown to a size where they are ready for planting back on the reef.  We often plant the corals in clusters, so they can fuse together to cover a large area quickly. 

 
 
 
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We track the restoration.

The story is not over until the corals are thriving and enhancing the natural environment.  So we continually monitor the survivorship and growth of the corals, and whether they are supporting a diverse community of invertebrates and fish.  We also have temperature sensors at every site, to help us understand the best places for restoration, and how the corals are responding to temperature changes.

 
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Impacts.

Perhaps our greatest success so far has been with the branching corals.  When we began our work, we had trouble even finding this species.  This species once had a healthy population, but impacts like sedimentation had diminished them to the brink of disappearing.  We collected only a few small branches and “fragments of opportunity” (broken branches lying in the sediment) from about 8 native colonies, and placed them in our nursery.  Every few months we took fragments from our nursery colonies to make more colonies, and two years later we realized that we had many more colonies in our nursery than we had ever found on the nearby reefs.  We are now transplanting these nursery corals back to the reef to bring the numbers back to a level where they can successfully reproduce and thrive on their own.  Our goal now is to plant thousands of corals, of several species, to really make a difference on the reefs.

 
 
 

The corals
want to grow.

We’re working to restore coral reef ecosystems.  When we started this project, we had doubts.  The corals had just suffered a major bleaching event and some had died.  It took many dives to even find Pocillopora, one of the species we were determined to bring back.

 
 
 
 
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a SHORT story to tell

"A new symbiosis"

We usually work fast on the boat, but the weightlessness of scuba diving demands a slower tempo in the nurseries and at the outplant site.  There is rarely time to finish the work before our tanks empty, but when we do have even 5 minutes to spare, to look and listen closely, the connection happens. 

Look deep into a coral to see a small shrimp, and it will shift its stalked eyes outward to look back at you.  I’ve seen Tati working diligently while a small fish hangs motionless a few feet away, watching her.  Our pet angelfish (Cortés and Ángel) patrol around like dogs and wait for JAM to lift off the protective grids so they can move in and graze the algae and sponges.  And shifty triggerfish angle to dart in and bite an unprotected coral. 

We are in their environment as we take up the mission to change our relationship with coral reefs.  The goal is to shift the image that humans are bad for coral reefs to one that humans are good for coral reefs.  This is why we call our project “A Human-Coral Symbiosis,” and it’s the most fulfilling thing we’ve ever done.

 
 
 
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