Diving in a Coral Forest - click here to watch the video on YouTube!
Since early 2019, the CATS Programme collaborates with CLEAR Caribbean on a coral restauration project in Soufriere, Saint Lucia. The project aims at propagating Staghorn Coral and Elkhorn Coral along the coastline in the Soufriere area, reaching from Anse Chastanet Bay to the Pitons.
The corals are grown on trees made of PVC pipes and glass fibre bars and are anchored to the ground with ropes. So far, a total of ten trees have been installed, building an underwater coral forest. The trees, six of which are used for Elkhorn Coral and four for Staghorn Coral, are accommodating approx. 1,000 specimens ranging from just a few centimetres to up to almost forearm-length with numerous branches.
CLEAR Caribbean uses small pieces of healthy coral, collected from different locations in Laborie Bay (south of Soufriere) and the Soufriere Bay itself, and ties them to the nursery trees. Over time, the smaller pieces grow into healthy and strong coral branches. The age difference between the smallest and largest pieces seen in the video might only be about nine months to one year, indicating that these corals grow relatively fast. After about a year, the corals are taken from the trees and transplanted onto the actual reef. So far, about 500 pieces of Staghorn coral have been planted in 50 clusters to the reefs at the bottom of Petit Piton and Pinnacle Point.
The trees are not just left to their own fate before the corals are ready to be transplanted, however. Regular checks and maintenance of the trees is required. As shown in the video, it happens that pieces of coral fall off the trees, especially when they grow bigger. This is mainly caused by currents breaking the strings with which the corals are attached to the trees. In that case, the risk is high that the corals are covered with sand on the sea floor, causing them to die. With regular maintenance dives, these pieces can be reattached to the trees. Another important of the maintenance is cleaning of the trees from algae, and the separation of dead or dying coral. The aim is to grow a strong and health population.
One of our CATS officers got lucky recently and had the chance to get hand-on experience in coral gardening. This very fascinating project delivers tangible results with a direct impact on marine ecosystems. Over time, these corals will grow further and help to restore damaged sections of the reefs in Saint Lucia, benefitting the ecosystem itself and people depending on it.