Green Pages

Farming Coral on Land

Gene bank pilot nursery started.

By Don Stark and Alizee Zimmermann, Turks & Caicos Reef Fund

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) arrived in the Turks & Caicos Islands in 2019. This Caribbean and Tropical Atlantic-wide disease has devasted reefs throughout the region. It has affected over 30 species of stony corals — the big reef building corals — resulting in a significant loss of live coral coverage on the TCI reefs. 

The Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF) has been monitoring and documenting this disease since mid-2019 and has been fighting this disease since early 2020. It has been a hard fight though, as each infected coral head must be treated individually while scuba diving. This is a very labor intensive and costly process, but a necessary effort in hopes of preserving the biodiversity of the TCI reefs.  

There are rarely single-focused answers though, and even less so with biological/environmental work. To enhance our ability to preserve our reefs, the TCRF has added another weapon to our armory in the battle against this aggressive and deadly disease. TCRF has established the first land-based coral nursery in the Turks & Caicos Islands which will serve as the pilot for a large gene banking program the organization is planning. Funded by a grant from the John Ellerman Foundation in the UK, the pilot project was built in June 2022 and is already housing live stony corals. The SCTLD-threatened coral colonies currently in the nursery were salvaged from the Blue Haven Marina docks that were scheduled to be removed and taken to the dump. 

This is TCRF’s new pilot coral nursery. The corals must be fed and their water quality maintained within very stringent parameters.

This project is an effort to create a species survival program for stony corals that have been severely affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The nursery is located at the TCRF office at South Bank Marina. The facility was built with the assistance of coral nursery specialists from The Reef Institute of West Palm Beach, FL and it is open to visitors.

SCTLD has exacted a terrible toll and several species are already functionally extinct on TCI reefs due to the disease. Without this gene-banking effort, many of these coral species could be lost forever. The pilot nursery will enable TCRF staff and volunteers to learn coral husbandry and coral tank maintenance. Already, they are learning that running a land-based coral nursery is a complicated process. Corals, which are animals, must be fed and their water quality must be maintained within very stringent parameters. And, the tanks must be kept clean. But fortunately, with the help of trained volunteers, TCRF is quickly learning the ins and outs of farming coral on land.

TCRF’s long-term goal is to expand the land-based coral nursery program which will allow us to propagate thousands of these important reef building corals and ultimately restore them to the reefs around the Turks & Caicos Islands. Working with the developers of the South Bank community, TCRF hopes to expand this effort on a much larger scale within the next two years. The expansion will also include a coral research and education center.

The office is open to the public and interested parties should contact Alizée via email on alizee@tcreef.org to arrange a visit. “Coral Ecology 101” school visits can be arranged as well.



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