Team rescues storm-damaged coral to regrow and replace on reefs
Hundreds of bits of coral have been rescued by a team of divers working to save the pieces after storm damage.
The fragments are treated and regrown in a hatchery before they are replanted and eventually returned to the reef.
A spokeswoman for the Living Reefs Foundation explained: “During a storm, corals can be knocked off the reef or broken into pieces, which get tumbled around with sand and other rubble on the seabed.
“These broken coral fragments will die in a matter of days, leaving the whole reef weaker and more vulnerable than before the storm.
“With the increasing frequency and severity of storms due to climate change, our reef’s ability to recover from hurricanes is under threat.”
Samia Sarkis and a small team of students and volunteers at the foundation are running a programme to rescue Bermuda’s storm-damaged corals to preserve the reef’s health in the face of hurricanes and other impacts.
The spokeswoman said: “After a major storm like Hurricane Fiona, Dr Sarkis and her team of divers search the rubble and sand of Castle Harbour with their fingertips for pieces of live coral that were broken off the reef.
“They bring the surviving fragments, some as small as the tip of a pinky finger, others as large as a grapefruit, back to their Coney Island hatchery in a blue Igloo cooler filled with seawater.
“There, they carefully clean the live coral and treat it with antibiotics before supergluing the back of each piece to a ceramic tile and placing it in a tank.”
Dr Sarkis said: “So far this year we’ve rescued more than 300 coral fragments damaged by storms.
“If we had more resources, we could easily rescue another 300 from this small fringe reef alone.
“After regrowing rescued coral in our hatchery, we replant them in our Coral Gardens near Rosewood Tucker’s Point, where we’ll look after them, monitor their growth, and ultimately cement them back on the reef.”
Dr Sarkis, a marine biologist, researches the development of new techniques to boost the growth of rescued coral and increase its chance of survival once it is returned to the reef.
She hopes to publish her findings in a scientific paper next year.
Sponsors including Deloitte, QBE Equator Re, the Bermuda Tourism Authority, March, Bacardi, Cassine, Soltrino, Rosewood and individual donations support Living Reefs Foundation’s Coral Gardening programme.
A spokeswoman for the foundation added: “The initiative was also named in the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Plan’s draft Blue Economy Strategy as a potential investment, to help the initiative scale up and offer its popular hands-on coral restoration experiences to the island’s visitors.”
Dr Sarkis said: “We have ambitions to rebuild much greater areas of storm-damaged reefs in the future to strengthen this natural coastal barrier that protects Bermuda from hurricanes and we hope our research into new techniques will positively contribute to coral restoration programmes around the world.
“We’re grateful to our generous supporters, sponsors and volunteers who make this critical work possible.”