Evaluating methods for transplanting endangered elkhorn corals in the Virgin Islands

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Restoration of rare corals is desirable and restoration projects are fairly common, but scientific evaluation of this approach is limited. We tested several techniques for transplant and restabilization of Acropora palmata (the elkhorn coral), an ecologically important Caribbean coral whose populations have suffered severe declines. In rough weather, fragments break-off colonies of branching corals like A. palmata as a normal form of asexual reproduction. We transplanted naturally produced coral fragments from remnant populations to nearby restoration sites. Untouched control fragments at the donor site died faster and grew slower than fragments attached to the reef, so attaching fragments to the reef is beneficial. Transplanted fragments grew and died at a rate similar to fragments left at the donor site (both groups were attached to the reef), so there were no effects of moving fragments or differences in habitat quality between donor and restoration sites. Growth and survival were similar using four methods of attaching fragments to the reef: cable ties, two types of epoxy resin, and hydrostatic cement. Corals sometimes compete with the macroalgae that dominate degraded reefs, and clearing surrounding algae improved the growth of fragments. After 4 years, transplanted fragments grew to 1,450 cm2 in area and so were potentially sexually active. Because the methods tested are simple and cheap, they could be used by volunteer recreational divers to restore locally extirpated A. palmata populations or to enhance reefs where natural recovery is slow. © 2010 Society for Ecological Restoration International.

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Restoration Ecology