Help Restore Coral Reefs

By guest blogger Hayley-Jo Carr

Many divers believe that only marine biologists and scientific divers can help restore coral reefs, but you need only be a regular Open Water diver with an interest to get involved. The Coral Nursery Restoration class at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas is open to novice divers and after just a day’s training you can participate in conservation dives. With expanding nurseries, more divers are needed to work as “gardeners” to help with their continued success.

Coral reefs are home to one-third of all known marine species, and provide coastal protection and habitat to a wide range of fish and invertebrates. Coral reefs are in rapid decline the world over, however, and coral nurseries are just one part of the puzzle to help restore them. Different countries have been growing a variety of corals; Acropora cervicornus has been the main focus in the Caribbean, with spectacular results. Sadly, Acropora cervicornis, commonly know as staghorn coral, was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species in 2008. This fast-growing branching coral is particularly vulnerable to threats such as temperature extremes, storms and disease.  However, because of its fast-growing abilities, it has made for an ideal candidate for coral nurseries.

Many different types of coral nurseries are being created and when divers participate in a course they’ll have specific training for the type of nursery at that location. Some nurseries are floating, typically with lines or frames suspended off the sea floor; others are fixed to the bottom, such as blocks or frames. Each type follows a similar process, and all require regular maintenance. A small coral fragment is attached to the frame and once it grows large enough, it’s planted on existing reefs.

Get Involved: How to Help Restore Coral Reefs

Many dive centers now offer coral-restoration courses to their guests. One such course is the Coral Nursery and Restoration Specialty Course, written by Marine biologist Lisa Terry of The Nature Conservancy. This Distinctive PADI Specialty course includes a half-day of theory, learning about coral biology, identification, reproduction, why coral reefs are important, what threats corals face, nursery methodology and maintenance techniques. During your Open Water Dives for the course, you’ll first work on buoyancy skills, such as task loading while hovering to fine-tune your control in the water. The nursery structures and corals are very delicate and you must have controlled movement while working on them to prevent any damage from occurring. After the various buoyancy skills, you move on to clean algae from the structures. Algae can smother and kill corals, so it’s important to remove them thoroughly on a regular basis and. Predators must also be removed, such as fireworms and snails that feast on the coral polyps.  You will also learn how to differentiate between paling, bleaching, predation and disease to provide information to nursery data collectors for records and analysis.  The course is well-suited to those studying marine sciences, biology or conservation, or even just for someone who wants to do something different while diving.

Becoming a Coral Nursery Restoration diver not only gives back to the ocean and helps restore coral reefs, but also greatly improves your buoyancy skills, creating noticeable improvements in your general diving abilities — it’s a win for you and for the reefs.

The Coral Nursery & Restoration Specialty is available at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas for both diver and instructor levels. Contact PADI Course Director Hayley-Jo Carr at training@stuartcove.com for details.

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