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COMMON QUESTIONS

Useful Information

ISER Caribe FAQ

What is ISER Caribe?

ISER Caribe (Institute for Socio-Ecological Research), is a nonprofit organization, established in 2012. Our mission is to investigate the intricate interactions and dialectic relations between humans and the environment through community-centered participatory research to address inequitable environmental burdens and cultivate alternative, sustainable and just relationships with natural systems.  

 

Our vision is to promote healthy and sustainable livelihoods, by endorsing a model that is economically viable and oriented towards the preservation of the environment and the empowerment of communities most affected by climate change. As a research and educational organization based in Puerto Rico we engage and connect with communities across the Caribbean and in coastal communities across the Americas. Through our collaborative projects we build consensus that allows us to develop participatory actions, capacity building and horizontal knowledge transfer through local outreach activities and education. We expect that our work will aid in the transition from centralized governmental management into community-lead stewardship of natural resources within social ecological systems. 

What are the main research areas of ISER Caribe?

​Coral reef restoration and conservation, and cultural heritage. We are also working to develop a climate justice hub and a water quality lab.  

How are social dimensions of coral reef conservation and fisheries integrated into the programs and projects of ISER Caribe?

In addition to restoring coral reef ecosystems, ISER Caribe incorporates the community into its restoration efforts through tours, volunteer opportunities, internships, and social media outreach. We also occasionally host workshops to educate those interested in practicing coral reef restoration. We are developing a documentary film on coral reef restoration in the Caribbean to reach a wider audience about our restoration efforts. In addition, we aim to further involve the public in our work through public-facing events whenever possible! If you are interested in getting involved, please fill out this form, to see where we might be next, please see our events calendar, and follow us on social media: [IG] @isercaribe + @cirom.pr // [FB] @isercaribe 

What are the future goals for ISER Caribe? 

For coral reef restoration and conservation, our primary goal is to restore 5 acres of coral reefs in Puerto Rico. We also plan to expand our understanding of which corals are the most resilient to climate change through conducting genetic analysis on corals and focusing our efforts on reproducing corals that survive bleaching and disease events.  

 

We also plan to develop a Climate Justice Hub to conduct equitable research on climate change, implement equitable actions to address climate change and support others working on climate change and environmental justice initiatives. As part of the Climate Justice Hub, we hope to include a small water quality lab to test for common pollutants in natural water bodies and small, local water suppliers.  

What opportunities does ISER Caribe offer for students?

We offer internships, volunteering opportunities, assistantships to students at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and Humacao marine sciences programs, guided tours, and cultural and educational trips. Interested in participating in the project? Message the team through our interest form! 

Is ISER Caribe part of the Programa de Horas Verdes of the
Department of Education of Puerto Rico?

We have accepted students as part of the Programa de Horas Verdes. If you wish to participate, please fill out the volunteer interest form.  

CIROM FAQ

What is CIROM and where are the CIROM facilities located?

The Center for Research and Restoration of Marine Organisms (CIROM in Spanish) facilities are the first land-based nurseries for marine organisms in Puerto Rico, developed and run by ISER Caribe, with collaboration and/or funding from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, DMS, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center. We currently have facilities in La Parguera at the Isla Magueyes Marine Station and Department of Marine Science, UPRM, and in Ceiba. For details of the nursery locations please visit the CIROM page.

How is coral reef restoration impacted by climate change? And how is the work ISER Caribe does, impactful in the face of climate change?

Coral reef restoration is impacted by the same symptoms of climate change that impact coral reefs such as coral bleaching. We recognize that this also makes restoring coral reefs hard! However, there are still things that can be done in the face of climate change to restore and preserve coral reefs. 

At ISER Caribe, our land-based nurseries currently serve as an emergency refuge to keep sensitive and/or endangered corals alive during extreme bleaching events, to preserve coral species and genetic diversity. We also plan to focus our restoration efforts on particular coral colonies that have shown resistance to higher temperatures and disease events. Future research and restoration at ISER Caribe may also include raising corals at our land-based nurseries to be more tolerant to higher temperatures.  

What is an ecosystem-based approach and why does ISER Caribe
use this method?

The ecosystem-based approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use of resources equitably. We restore corals and other important reef organisms, such as herbivores like urchins and crabs, that eat nuisance algae to reduce competition, increase coral growth, and restore balance to the ecosystem. 

How does the work of ISER Caribe help to conserve and restore the marine ecosystem?

Caribbean coral reefs have been severely impacted by climate change and disease events, resulting in widely degraded coral reef ecosystems. To help restore the coral reefs, we are working to restore both hard corals and important herbivores such as urchins and crabs.  

For hard corals, we use the technique of microfragmentation to grow corals in our land-based (ex-situ) and in the water (in-situ) nurseries at a much faster rate (Christopher A. Page, Erinn M. Muller, David E. Vaughan, Microfragmenting for the successful restoration of slow growing massive corals, Ecological Engineering, Volume 123, 2018, Pages 86-94, ISSN 0925-8574,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2018.08.017). After the corals have reached a size where they are more resistant to predation, the corals are outplanted on degraded reefs for restoration. We are also spawning certain types of corals in the laboratory to raise them from larvae to adult coral colonies before planting them on the reef, a, increasing the chances of survivorship.  

For herbivores, our primary technique is to spawn them in the lab and grow them to their adult stages. However, for some species, such as Diadema antillarum, which is extremely hard to rear their larvae, we collect them as babies (settlers) and grow them to adulthood in the lab. Through growing species to adulthood in the lab before releasing them on the reefs, both corals and herbivores have a much better chance of surviving and can go on to contribute to a healthy coral reef ecosystem.  

We also do a lot of outreach and education on coral reefs, and train high school through graduate school students in the marine sciences through internships, assistantships, and mentoring.  

What are the species of coral that ISER Caribe works with? 

We work with all kinds of Caribbean corals! However, the focus for our restoration work is on species of corals that are on the endangered species list, such as the Acropora palmata or elkhorn corals, massive corals such as Orbicella species, or other framework building species that have been decimated by disease such as Dendrogyra cylindrus, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Montastraea cavernosa, and Colpophyllia natans.  

What is coral microfragmentation? And how does it help corals grow faster?

The microfragmentation technique consists of cutting the corals into smaller pieces using a specialized saw. Through cutting the corals into smaller pieces, tissue growth is simulated, and fragments have been shown to have increased growth and greater outplant survival4. In addition, because microfragmentation makes many coral colonies out of one coral colony, it increases the number of coral colonies on the reef, and can help restore numbers of threatened, endangered, or other coral colonies on the reef!

What is the minimum age to volunteer at CIROM?

Typically, the minimum age is 18. However, with the permission of a parent or guardian, we may accept high school-age students on a case-by-case basis.  

How can I participate in events, volunteer, and/or visit the CIROM Facilities?

Please see our events calendar for specific events at ISER Caribe, to visit the CIROM Facilities or for volunteer opportunities please fill out this form.  

CORALS FAQ

What is a coral reef? 

A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem consisting of stony corals (primary builders of these reefs), fish, invertebrates and other sea creatures interacting with each other and the chemical and physical environment. Corals consist of a polyp or many polyps. A polyp has a mouth with tentacles that feed on plankton. The polyps excrete an exoskeleton at the base of the coral. Corals also have zooxanthellae, that live symbiotically, or in harmony with, the coral polyps to give them their color and help give the coral colonies their energy through feeding on nutrients in the ocean.  

 

For more information check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  

Why are coral reefs so important to our planet? 

Coral reefs are a hotspot of marine life and diversity in the ocean. They support more species by area than any other marine environment, including more than 4,000 species of fish, more than 800 species of corals, and hundreds of other marine organisms1. Coral reefs, owing to their incredible diversity and abundance of life, serve as a crucial source of food for marine organisms and, consequently, for humans through the support of fisheries. 

Coral reefs also help protect the coastlines from storms and erosion to reduce the impact of large storm events and waves. In addition, coral reefs are culturally, economically, and recreationally important. One study estimated that the total net benefit of coral reefs is $29.8 billions, with tourism and recreation accounting for $9.6 billion, coastal protection $9.0 billion, fisheries $5.7 billion, and biodiversity $5.5 billion (Cesar, H. S. J., L. Burke, and L. Pet-Soede. "The economics of worldwide coral reef." (2003)).

What are the biggest threats to our coral reefs? 
  • Climate Change: Climate change is causing ocean warming, acidification, and oxygen loss. Ocean warming is the greatest threat to coral reefs; a temperature increases as little as 1°C above typical summer temperatures can cause coral bleaching, disease, and mortality. Global coral bleaching events have occurred three times already, leading to widespread loss of coral cover across the globe, and this pattern is expected to worsen with ongoing warming. Meanwhile, ocean acidification can accelerate the breakdown of coral reef calcium carbonate structures, and decreasing oxygen levels pose a significant risk to the survival of many coral reef organisms. 

  • Land-Based Pollution: Land based sources of pollution, such as sediment that comes from roads or unsustainable development, agricultural and river runoff, and oil or chemical spills can harm corals through slowing growth, stopping reproduction, and causing disease and mortality.  

  • Overfishing: Fish are an important part of the coral reef ecosystem and help keep coral reefs in balance through eating harmful algae, providing nutrients, and keeping harmful pest species in check. If the fish populations decrease due to unregulated fishing practices or other reasons, and populations are low, they are unable to perform these essential functions, leading to coral reef decline.  

 

What is coral bleaching and why is it so dangerous to our coral reefs? 

When corals experience temperature increases as little as 1°C above typical summer temperatures, the symbiotic algae (zooxanthella) leave the coral’s tissue (polyps), causing the corals to lose their color (bleaching) and a large part of their food source. Coral bleaching is dangerous because zooxanthella helps provide coral as a major source of food. The loss of zooxanthellae makes them more susceptible to disease and less resilient. When coral bleaches, it is not dead, but it is significantly weaker. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are highly susceptible to mortality. 

What can you do to save coral reefs?
  • Reduce your climate footprint. A few things you can do include reducing airline travel, using environmentally friendly modes of transportation, and saving energy at home and at work.  

  • Recycle and Reuse! Dispose of trash properly. Marine debris can be harmful to coral reefs and can even suffocate corals.  

  • Minimize use of fertilizers. Fertilizers can run into the ocean to pollute coral reefs leading to disease or decline.  

  • Be conscious when buying aquarium fish. Many aquarium organisms are collected unsustainably from coral reefs.  

  • Plan beach cleanups near you and reef cleanups if you are a diver! 

  • Contact your local government officials and promote change in policies and management for the conservation and protection of coral reefs. 

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