Newswise — FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE, Fla. – You could call it the Four Seasons for corals.
Back in 2019, research scientists at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Halmos College of Arts and Sciences joined forces with colleagues on an ambitious project to save at-risk corals. Florida’s coral reefs are currently experiencing a multi-year disease-related mortality event, which has resulted in massive die-offs in multiple coral species. The Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) rescue project, affectionately called the “Noah’s Ark” project by some, used NSU’s on-shore coral nursery at its Oceanographic Campus to temporarily house threatened corals taken from various reefs until the threat subsided, at which time the corals could be replanted.
As that project has progressed, NSU is now making its coral nursery available for other similar projects.
“As SCTLD has spread throughout the Caribbean, the rescue project is progressing to include endemic corals, so we’re increasing our capabilities to hold [temporary and long-term] other corals beyond the scope of the non-endemic coral field collections,” said Abigail Renegar, Ph.D., a coral research scientist at NSU. “We are taking a comprehensive approach in order to make NSU’s onshore coral nursery facilities as useful as possible to broader restoration efforts.”
For many years, NSU has been a leader in coral reef research, preservation, and conservation. The university’s research scientists and students utilize both off-shore and on-shore nurseries to grow “new” corals, which are then out-planted to various reefs to help them rebound from various “stressors” (increasing ocean temperatures, introduction of toxins into the ecosystem, etc.) that have negatively impacted them.
That’s why NSU was a natural for the “Ark” project back in 2019, and why researchers are expanding how the onshore coral nursery can be used for a myriad of projects today.
Renegar said these new efforts include both the main onshore coral nursery facilities and the SEACOR coral rescue tanks at NSU’s Oceanographic Campus and will provide both short-term and long-term housing for corals which are, for example, rescued as part of building and maintenance projects. One such project is Port Everglades maintenance dredging and bulkhead replacements. In addition, Renegar said NSU’s nursery is being used to house corals and other reef organisms that must be quarantined before transfer to other facilities.
“NSU is in a fortunate position because our available facilities are unique in terms of our location and the capability to provide ample short-term quarantine care and long-term life support,” Renegar said.
The scope has also been expanded, in collaboration with Renegar’s colleague and associate professor, Joana Figueiredo, Ph.D.’s efforts in coral propagation, to include micro-fragmentation of key reef-building species. Asexually reproducing coral, through fragmentation, has the advantage of quickly increasing coral biomass available to restoration efforts, although it does not contribute to increased genetic diversity. In other words, fragmentation allows corals to grow faster so they can be outplanted to the reef quicker, thus helping the reefs rebound.
Fragmentation consists of cutting adult colonies into multiple smaller pieces, which are then grown in land-based and/or offshore nurseries. These smaller fragments present faster growth rates than larger colonies – it’s hypothesized to be because smaller corals allocate more energy towards growth and away from reproduction, or simply because the perimeter to area ratio is more advantageous for the growth of modular organisms. Microfragmentation of reef-building species impacted by the SCTLD outbreak needs to be optimized and intensified in land-based and offshore nurseries to significantly enhance their density on the reef, enhance fertilization success, and ultimately promote recruitment success.
*Interested Media: Arrangements can be made for you to visit NSU’s Oceanographic Campus for photos/video at the on-shore coral nursery and to meet with research scientists.
About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): At NSU, students don’t just get an education, they get the competitive edge they need for real careers, real contributions and real life. A dynamic, private research university, NSU is providing high-quality educational and research programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree levels. Established in 1964, the university includes 15 colleges, the 215,000-square-foot Center for Collaborative Research, the private JK-12 grade University School, the world-class NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center, one of Florida’s largest public libraries. NSU students learn at our campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and online globally. With nearly 200,000 alumni across the globe, the reach of the NSU community is worldwide. Classified as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is one of only 59 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit www.nova.edu for more information.
About NSU’s Halmos College of Arts and Sciences and Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center: The college provides high-quality undergraduate and graduate education programs in a broad range of disciplines in the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. Halmos College faculty, researchers, staff, and students pursue studies and investigations in all of these fields and in interdisciplinary projects. Excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement are at the forefront of the College’s many initiatives. The Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center hosts cutting edge research in the marine sciences focusing on the biology, conservation, and physical aspects of the tropical and subtropical ocean environments. Please visit hcas.nova.edu for more information.