CCMI Installs Large Scale Coral Dome Experiment
In 2018, CCMI researchers installed a pilot project to assess whether attaching nursery-reared corals to 3D dome structures, that elevate coral outplants above the (wild) reef structure, could improve their survival. These corals were assessed after a span of 14 months. In 2019, we demonstrated dramatically higher survival rates (80%) using the elevated structure (dome) compared to traditionally outplanted corals (as low as 9%). It is thought that by elevating coral outplants from the substrate we are reducing the impact of competition and predation, creating a more successful outcome for growth and survival. This project also resulted in development of an abstract for the International Coral Reef Symposium. In May 2020, CCMI undertook a large-scale expansion of this project, installing 60 domes with over 650 coral fragments on the reef. Further monitoring and testing will determine which depths and environmental factors contribute to successful outplanting survival, leading to development of best practice that can be replicated and scaled up throughout the Cayman Islands and beyond. Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, CCMI relied heavily on assistance from the local resident community of Little Cayman in spring/summer 2020 to participate in the expansion of our coral dome project and to assist with nursery maintenance. Following CCMI’s large-scale outplanting efforts in spring 2020, our coral nurseries were reorganized, reinforced, and restocked via fragmentation of existing colonies to ensure that we retain a sizable population of coral fragments to grow and potentially spawn in August/September. These corals will also contribute to future coral reef restoration through continued outplanting experiments when water temperatures cool in fall 2020. Ongoing research has significant implications for restoration best practices.