Navy growing coral in Guam waters

by Catherine Cruz Norton
NAVFAC Marianas

PITI, Guam – Navy-submerged lands on Guam are being used as a testbed for a project to assess the viability of a coral nursery which, if successful, will promote restoration of coral reefs.

Earlier this summer, a team consisting of marine biologists, scientists and trained volunteers from the Navy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Secore International, the Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans Coastal Management Program, Underwater World Guam, Aquarium of the Pacific, the University of Guam (UOG) Marine Lab and the Department of Agriculture Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources took part in this coral-growing project.

“This type of collaboration is intended to raise awareness about the importance of proactive coral management projects for reef restoration efforts in the waters around Guam,” said Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Marianas Marine Resource Specialist Hilary Goodwin. “Due to impacts on coral reefs such as climate change, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, overfishing, soil runoff, coral reefs are in decline worldwide.” Goodwin added the protection of coral reefs is extremely vital as they serve as fish habitat.

In mid-July, researchers took advantage of annual coral spawning in Guam, to collect gametes (reproductive cells) released by coral. The resulting larvae, from fertilized gametes, were distributed in submerged pools with racks containing a total of 2,000 pointed cement tiles. The intent was for the larvae to then seek an area - on these tiles - to attach to and grow.

Six hundred of the tiles are being housed in the UOG Marine Lab and two pools of 700 tiles each are in a coral nursery – a sufficiently deep, sheltered, secure area in nearshore waters conducive to the growth of the environment-sensitive larvae. As they mature, the coral will be planted on the reef, probably all within the next year.

“We’re currently trying to decide whether we should test putting the corals out on the reef at different times,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fishery Biologist Valerie Brown. “In the past, they’ve held them for almost a year before putting them out. We may try putting them out sooner. Since we have a lot of corals, we can test how long they need; that’s one of the questions we could ask.”

Although there are about 400 species of coral in Guam, the team focused on Acropora surculosa, one of the branching corals commonly found along the reef margin on Guam's fringing and barrier reefs. The researchers have conducted similar projects with the species, so they have a sense of what to expect. The UOG Marine Lab already had colonies of Acropora surculosa spawning in the lab, which they used when they were unable to collect gametes in rough ocean waters. “(Acropora corals) are important reef-building corals,” Brown said. “These are found right where the waves are breaking and in the shallow reef area down below that.”

This project is the first of its kind for the Navy on Guam, and researchers said demonstrating the success of this project is vital to securing additional resources for future research and projects to protect Guam’s reefs.

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