Step 1: Collecting a Feedstock of Corals Copy

When coral gardening, reef managers will regularly secure naturally broken coral fragments to the reef or rubble piles. This is an effective way to maintain the reef, but we also need to plan for the future, and have a stock of corals for areas where fragments cannot be found.

So, reef managers also need to maintain a collection of corals that can be transplanted where needed, This is called a feedstock and refers to the corals on a nursery.

Ideally, these are naturally created coral fragments, unsecured recruits, or corals broken by anchors and human activities. If left on their own, these corals are unlikely to survive; and are often referred to as ‘corals of opportunity’ due to their potential for survival through intervention.

One of the best places to collect the ‘corals of opportunities’ is to have volunteer divers swim along the reef edge or around coral heads in patch reefs adjacent to and at the same depth as the chosen restoration area.

Any fragments that are large colonies that are still intact but dislodged can be secured in place, but smaller or unhealthy pieces should be collected for rehabilitation.

Divers can use baskets to carefully collect fragments from a large area to ensure that many distinct colonies of different species/genera are collected.

Divers may be instructed to focus efforts on marginalized species or those that are necessary to replace structural or functional diversity that may have been lost. However, in our experience, the best long-term results are achieved by not focusing on any particular species but on trying to maximize the diversity of species used. This is because we cannot predict what types of threats will be paramount from year to year, and maximizing both species and genetic diversity is the best way to ensure that your reef will be prepared for the next disturbance down the line.   

Note: in this course, we will be using ‘fragment’ to refer to corals of opportunity, but we want to differentiate this from the aquaculture-derived word ‘frag’ and make clear that, for the most part, the 3-Step system we are covering here does not include ‘fragging.’

In restoration areas adjacent to healthy reefs, it can be quite easy and inexpensive to collect the desired number of fragments without having any negative effects on the ‘donor reef.’ Collections can reoccur at regular intervals through the year, as long as ample time has been given for new fragments to be produced naturally.

In areas that have been too depleted of healthy colonies or are not adjacent to a reef with high coral coverage, naturally occurring fragments may not be available. In these areas, other methods must be used to create restoration feedstocks.

Most commonly, coral propagation through asexual means or transplanting of corals from non-adjacent reefs is the fastest and cheapest option. While short-term success is possible using these methods, there are many inherent risks to doing so, which will be discussed at the end of this lesson.

Once coral fragments have been collected, they can be moved to the nursery for rehabilitation and growth.