MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Efforts to restore the Florida Reef Tract may be working. Staghorn corals grown in a nursery and replanted at a reef restoration site off Key Biscayne have spawned for the first time which is providing hope that rebuilding Florida’s valuable marine ecosystems may be possible.
“We’re just taking very small steps first of all to try to slow down the decline, but also to give them a push, try to recover them to the point that they are basically able to replenish themselves,” explained Diego Lirman, associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the UM Rosenstiel School and founder and director of UM’s Rescue a Reef program. “We’re not there yet, but this is a really very promising step towards that goal.”
Lirman says the spawning is a “very rare phenomenon to witness, so it’s great that we were able to capture this scientific breakthrough to share with our local community and people around the world.”
WATCH: STAGHORN CORAL SPAWNS IN BISCAYNE BAY
The scientists were able to collect eggs and sperm from about a dozen different colonies during the spawning, which they then fertilized to raise thousands of coral larvae which can also be grown out and replanted as part of a cyclical approach to helping reefs rebuild themselves and remain resilient.
In June 2019, the UM Rosenstiel School and partners outplanted 100 staghorn corals at the 100 Yards of Hope restoration site, a football field-sized restoration project on Rainbow Reef, honoring the NFL’s 100th season and America’s military veterans of FORCE BLUE.
The program hopes to eventually restore 125 acres of degraded coral reefs in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Scientists would ultimately grow more than 150-thousand coral colonies from five coral species, three of which are currently listed as threatened.
Coral reefs provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life and support valuable commercial and recreational fishing industries but they are declining across the world.
Florida’s Coral Reef is the only nearshore reef in the continental United States, and coral cover has declined by at least 70 percent since the 1970s. Staghorn coral, once common in shallow waters throughout Florida and the Caribbean, is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The coral reefs in Southeast Florida generate $2 billion in annual revenues and support 70,400 jobs. In addition, Southeast Florida’s reefs play an important role in protecting people and property from the effects of hurricanes, such as flooding and storm surge, along the highly urbanized coastlines of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale during hurricanes.