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Coral Reef Restoration

Puerto Rico + The Caribbean.

ISER Caribe has been working on an ecosystem-based approach to coral reef restoration since the development of the sea urchin nurseries for Diadema antillarum in 2015. Ecosystem-based restoration is an approach that incorporates the restoration of important organisms, such as herbivorous sea urchins and crabs, along with corals to restore balance to coral reef ecosystems and restore both physical structure and ecological function. Since the development of the sea urchin nursery, we have expanded our restoration efforts to include 8 species of corals, 3 species of sea urchins and the Caribbean king crab. We grow our marine organisms at our land-based nurseries (CIROM), and in-situ nurseries before out planting them on degraded coral reefs for restoration.  

Other coral reef restoration work of ours includes efforts to understand and mitigate disturbances that have negatively impacted coral reefs such as the Diadema antillarum die-offs, coral bleaching, and Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). Future plans for our coral reef restoration efforts include looking into the resilience and adaptability of corals to climate change. We plan to track which wild or out planted coral colonies survive bleaching events and disease, the collection of genetic information on these coral colonies, and using these results to focus our restoration efforts on the hardiest coral colonies.   

We could not have done this work without the support of our many funders and partners, which include: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center, the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Department of Marine Sciences, Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the United Stated Fish and Wildlife Service HJR Reefscaping, Isla Mar Research Expeditions, Sea Ventures, Puerto Rico Sea Grant, Puerto Rico Surfrider, Mote Marine Labs, Unidad Académica de Sistemas Arrecifales Puerto Morelos, the State of Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources, Sociedad Ambiente Marino, and Aquatic Innovations. 

Current Projects

1

Caribbean Reef Project: Multi-strategic approaches to scaling-up ecosystem-based restoration to improve coral reef recovery and resilience around Puerto Rico  

The overall goal of the Caribbean Reef Project is to restore 5 acres of coral reef in Puerto Rico with an ecosystem-based approach that restores not only corals but also the herbivores that are essential to coral reef health.  Specifically, we plan to restore 6 coral reefs located in Fajardo, La Parguera and Mayagüez through outplanting 20,000 coral fragments, 1,600 sea urchin, and 100 crabs at each site. This project also allows us to expand the capacity of our land-based nurseries and in-situ nurseries at both CIROM facilities, and facilities and enhance operations. The Caribbean Reef project will also include a number of outreach and educational aspects including the creation and distribution of coast specific coral reef guidebooks, stakeholder workshops and instructional videos on restoration techniques, a short documentary film on coral restoration with screenings throughout the island, and volunteer restoration events with decision makers throughout Puerto Rico. This project is in partnerships with coral reef organizations throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean including: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center, the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Department of Marine Sciences, Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, HJR Reefscaping, Isla Mar Research Expeditions, Sea Ventures, Puerto Rico Sea Grant, Puerto Rico Surfrider, Mote Marine Labs, Unidad Académica de Sistemas Arrecifales Puerto Morelos, the State of Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources, and Aquatic Innovations. This project runs from 2023 through 2027 and is funded by NOAA through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

2

Re-stocking of the keystone herbivore species, Diadema antillarum, to reduce algal overgrowth (Phase III)

The goal of this project is to release 600 laboratory-reared Diadema antillarum to two coral reefs in Fajardo, Cayo Largo North and Palomino North. The benthic composition will be monitored before and during and afterwards after the release of urchins. This project runs from 2022 through 2024 and is funded by NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).

3

Development of Land Based Nursery for Diadema antillarum in Northeast Puerto Rico

The first installment of these funds allowed us to develop the second land-based sea urchin nursery in Puerto Rico at CIROM Ceiba. With these renewed funds, the goal for 2023-2024 is to continue producing Diadema antillarum for restoration efforts on the east coast of Puerto Rico. In addition, we will also identify hotspots of Diadema settlement. This new amendment of this project runs from 2023 through 2024 and is funded by US Fish and Wildlife Service and PR DNER. 

4

Developing a land-based coral nursery to increase the capacity for coral restoration at scale in the northeast region of Puerto Rico

These funds will allow us to expand CIROM Ceiba and develop the first land-based coral nursery in the east coast of Puerto Rico. The objective of this project is to produce coral microfragments for coral reef restoration efforts in the east coast, especially in Culebra Island. We are teaming up with Sociedad Ambiente Marino and PR DNER to also outplant coral microfragments and Diadema antillarum at two sites in Culebra. This project runs from 2022 to 2024 and is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

5

Nursery Resiliency

This project increases the resiliency of both Center’s for the Investigation and Restoration of Marine Organisms (CIROM in Spanish) facilities, where the land based nurseries are located, to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and power outages, all of which are common in Puerto Rico. We will be installing a solar energy system at the CIROM facility in La Parguera, and increasing the capacity of the solar system at the CIROM facility in Ceiba. We will also improve the water quality at both CIROM facilities in order to increase survivorship of corals and herbivores in the nurseries, and promote growth of the organisms. This project runs from 2023 to 2024 and is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

6

Restoration Road Maps: Improving coral reef restoration and capacity of managers in the Caribbean and MPAConnect Network

ISER Caribe is teaming up with AGRRA (Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment, PI) and MPAConnect to train Marine Park Managers from different Caribbean Islands in Restorative Aquaculture. Managers will receive training at the CIROM facilities during the summer of 2024. ISER will help develop science-based and management relevant Restoration Roadmaps for managers in the MPAConnect Network. This project runs from 2024 to 2027 and is funded by the Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform (CORDAP).

7

RAAK-PRO Diadema project

ISER Caribe is collaborating with University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein, PI), STENAPA
(St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation), Saba Conservation Foundation, Wageningen Marine Research, Wageningen University, Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, University of Applied Sciences HZ, Wortel Product Design and Golden Rock Dive Center to determine settlement rates post die-off of Diadema antillarum at multiple Caribbean islands, including at multiple sites in Puerto Rico.

8

Multi-Site Coral Reef Restoration to Build Resilinet Communities in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

ISER Caribe will be collaborating with Coral Reef Foundation (Principal Investigator) to collect genetic material and create a database of our resilient and resistant coral colonies in the nurseries. In particular, we will target sampling several lesser targeted non-Acropora corals in our coral restoration efforts. Having this genetic information will help our program understand the population dynamics of the corals we are restoring but also aid in the design and implementation of our restoration efforts. This project runs from 2024 through 2027 and is funded by NOAA through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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