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Florida Coral Nurseries Snag $350K In 'Stimulus' Funding To Aid In Reef Recovery

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MIAMI, Florida -- As the nation celebrates its birth on the 4th of July, University of Miami (UM) Professor Diego Lirman and fellow Caribbean coral reef nursery scientists will be celebrating as well. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today announced that The Nature Conservancy and its partners' staghorn and elkhorn coral recovery project, including Lirman's nursery in Biscayne National Park, will receive $350,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to further develop large-scale, in-water coral nurseries and restore reefs along Florida's southern coast and in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

The Nature Conservancy will serve as coordinator of the overall project, working with the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, as well as other academic, government and private entities to help repopulate local reef areas. The centerpiece of the proposed activities is the significant expansion of the four existing staghorn nurseries found between Broward County and the Lower Florida Keys, and the establishment of additional nurseries in the Dry Tortugas and the USVI. In all, the project will grow roughly 12,000 corals in Florida to enhance coral populations at 34 degraded reefs in the region.

Lirman, in UM's Marine Biology and Fisheries division, established a staghorn coral nursery within Biscayne National Park in 2007. This nursery presently holds approximately 500 fragments, and nursery fragments have already been used to restore four reefs where staghorn corals were depleted. The proposed plan includes expansion of fragment stocks (up to 4,000 fragments at this site) and the restoration of eight additional reefs over the next three years.

Florida boasts one of the planet's most significant coral reef ecosystems. Once abundant and productive marine habitat builders in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn coral and elkhorn coral suffered severe population declines due to coral bleaching, diseases, hurricane damage, and other threats. Both corals were designated as threatened species under the authority of the Endangered Species Act in 2006. With the ability to produce numerous branches that can each grow four or more inches a year, these corals are well suited for nursery propagation and restoration efforts.

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