Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners

by Fundación Grupo Puntacana
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Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Transforming Local Fishermen Into Coral Gardeners
Figure 1. Pseudodiploria strigosa microfragments.
Figure 1. Pseudodiploria strigosa microfragments.

We're excited to share that we have started coral restoration activities again, after being limited because of the pandemic situation. Over the last couple of months, we have been working on our infrastructures to optimize microfragmentation in order to obtain a higher rate of coral survival. Thanks to this, 101 microfragments were obtained from an in-water nursery; these were located in-situ because of the lack of personnel and the closure our Center for Marine Innovation due to government regulations to limit a further spread of COVID 19. These fragments of different species (Porites porites, Acropora spp., Pseudodiploria strigosa) where kept in-situ without any monitoring. These where cleaned to remove macroalgal cover, crustose coralline algae attached to the ceramic plates while in-situ which indicates a good substrate for coral attachment and overall low macroalgal cover.

The 22 coral nurseries located at the site Aquarium were monitored to evaluate the state of the 20 A-frame structure and 2 rope nurseries. These nurseries where monitored, dead fragments were removed to increase the growth rate of the fragments. Four A-frame structures were deployed in this site to start an experiment with the goal of knowing the exact coral cover of Acropora cervicornis that incentivizes the recruitment of fish in the nursery. For this experiment we have 4 old nurseries that have a high coral cover and fish biomass that will serve as a reference, 4 structures without corals that will serve as control, and 4 (still haven’t been deployed) structures with new fragments of A. cervicornis attached. Based on recurrent observations throughout one year in order to measure coral cover and fish biomass, we will be able to know the optimum coral cover needed to provide a habitat for fish. This data will also serve to know the number of coral fragments that can be removed for outplanting without compromising the agglomeration of fish.

A new nursery site, was evaluated to see the state of the four nurseries that were installed before the pandemic. Two of the structures are tree nurseries, which were never used before in the Puntacana region. These structures located in the new site have low algal cover and were able to withstand little to no monitoring due to COVID and tropical storms. This site is surrounded by a reef that will be used for coral outplants. In the near future a possible study could be implemented to evaluate the difference between fish biomass in coral nurseries in a Marine Protected Area (Aquarium) and a none proteted site.

Three species of massive corals (Montastraea cavernosa, Orbicella annularis, Pesudodiploria strigosa) and one branching coral (Acropora palmata) were taken from The Aquarium to the wetlab at our Center of Marine Innovation. The different colonies belonging to the same species were put in close contact in order to see if they were different genotypes via aggression experiments. From these experiments, nine different genotypes were detected. By having different genotypes a proportion of individuals in genetically diverse populations may have a greater capacity to survive and acclimate to changing environmental conditions. Genotypes also serve as a way to place microfragments of the same genotype together in order to accelerate growth rate for the fragments to fuse and cover a greater area which will serve to restore reefs.

Three tanks of the land nursery were reactivated as an initial stage with an approximate of 200 microfragments. The corals microfragmented were from the aggression experiments and staghorn corals of opportunity obtained from the Aquarium. These tanks have herbivorous marine species such as gastropods, sea urchins and doctor fish. This creates a more holistic ecosystem within each tank, which helps maintain a low microalga cover.

A new area for public outreach was designated to demonstrate the different structures that are used as nurseries in the Puntacana region. Tourist can come to the Center of Marine Innovation and be able to visualize how coral nurseries work and their purpose.

We're currently designing a workshop with the goal of teaching people how they can help with inland microfragmentation, nursery cleanups and coral outplants while using citizen science. This way more fieldwork will be able to be done and at the same time people from the community, former fishermen or tourists will be able to get involved and become coral gardeners as well. 

Figure 2. Structures for coral cover.
Figure 2. Structures for coral cover.
Figure 3 Structures for coral cover
Figure 3 Structures for coral cover
Figure 4. Microfragmentation
Figure 4. Microfragmentation
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Coral Gardeners
Coral Gardeners

The Dominican Republic has put in place a number of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 including a national curfew that prohibits all traffic and movement of people. This situation has affected our Coral Restoration program collaborators, limiting their activities and working hours.

We do have some great news for corals! We're very happy to announce our new Eba project: CoralRestore DR!

The goal of CoralRestore DR is to reduce climate risks and build climate resilience of the Punta Cana community and ultimately other communities across the DR and the Caribbean region.

The ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approach taken by the CoralRestore DR project involves protection, direct restoration, and rehabilitation of coral reef ecosystems; reductions in fishing and reef pressure by enforcing conservation regulations and involving fishermen in employment opportunities outside of current fishing activities; and scaling of the intervention model supported by this project. Under this general approach, four types of interventions will be carried out: (i) coral nurseries and outplantings; (ii) local community engagement; (iii) development of ecosystem goods and services; and (iv) replication and scaling of the coral restoration model.

All interventions will be carried out in the EZ-SMS, located in the PC region, in the municipality of Higuey, in La Altagracia Province along the eastern coast of the DR. The near-shore environment along the PC coast includes extensive coral reef ecosystems providing ecosystem services. These reef ecosystems are linked to a wide range of important economic activities benefiting local communities, such as tourism and fishing.

The criteria used to select the specific project site are based on vulnerability assessments of the EZ-SMS a protected area declared in 2009, composed of 800,000 ha and covering about 120 km of coastline. Fundación Grupo Puntacana is a member of the co-management team for the entire Sanctuary, focusing on the Eastern Zone (about 140,000 ha, covering 20 km of coast). This co-management arrangement is contained in a 25-year agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and is a unique public-private collaboration in the Caribbean. It is based on a joint management plan of the Sanctuary divided into three zones: South, Center, and East. This marine co-management agreement is the first of its kind in the DR and creates incentives for private sector investment and involvement in management of coastal resources. 

The full achievement of ecological and social resilience through this type of comprehensive project approach is predicted to take a minimum of 5-8 years. This three-year project aims to achieve important preliminary outcomes and lay the foundation for even more significant outcomes in the follow-on years. Therefore, it is important to describe in the Theory of Change (ToC) the short-medium-long term plan, and at the same time create a viable platform for increased private sector involvement and investment in protection of coastal ecosystems by demonstrating the value of these ecosystems to hotels and the tourism economy.

We're looking forward to having our Coral Restoration program running at full capacity in a couple of weeks. Will keep you posted! 



Microfragmentation
Microfragmentation
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New Coral Nursery
New Coral Nursery

During this period, the coral gardening group, in addition to their assigned activities (maintenance of the nursery, coral transplantation, etc.) has been involved in different projects developed at the Center for Marine Innovation (CIM), among them are:

  • Monitoring the status of parrotfish populations. The Coral Gardeners have been trained in the identification of different species of parrotfish and their different lifecycle phases. This work has improved their understanding of the importance of parrotfish to healthy coral reefs and it ensures that they continue to improve their capacity.
  • Seagrass population status at Puntacana Resort & Club. Working along side a visiting researcher, the fishermen helped marked permanent sites for the long-term study of the condition of seagrasses and their associated fauna.
  • Coral monitoring. Assisted another visiting scientist in her evaluation of the density and richness of coral recruits at a restoration site called the “Coliseum.” They also supported the identification of coral babies (recruits), as well as the monitoring of the benthos of this site.

The Coral Gardeners also lead the effort to create a second coral nursery in the Puntacana Resort & Club reef area and participated in the 5th Edition of Coralmania in November 2019. Coralmania is a massive outplanting event held by the Dominican Coastal Restoration Consortium where coral reef administrators, managers, restoration practitioners, government representatives, tourists and many others come together for 2-4 days to transplant coral fragments from the local nursery back on to the natural reef. Their participation and leadership resulted in over 1,700 coral fragments being transplanted; the largest restoration effort of the Coralmanias’ to-date.

New Coral Nursery (2)
New Coral Nursery (2)
Monitoring coral recruits at the Coliseum
Monitoring coral recruits at the Coliseum
5th Edition of Coralmania
5th Edition of Coralmania
5th Edition of Coralmania 2
5th Edition of Coralmania 2
5th Edition of Coralmania (3)
5th Edition of Coralmania (3)
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Evaluated site #1
Evaluated site #1

During this period the efforts of the group of coral gardeners focused on finalizing the evaluation of the transplant sites, evaluated a total of 48 sites. We have now evaluated more than 61 different sites of coral colonies at Puntacana.

They have also introduced microfragments of the Porites Furcata coral species in the nursery of the Grupo Puntacana Foundation, as well as, they have developed an exhaustive maintenance work, for us keep being one of the best coral nurseries evaluated by the Dominican Consortium of Coastal Restoration (CDRC).

Finally, they have collaborated in the realization of other primary activities for the Center for Marine Innovation. A highlight of this activities, was the filmed documentation of the spawning of the coral colonies Acropora Cervicornis at the transplant sites; in the sampling for the study of the biofilm of bacteria from the transplanted coral colonies; and in the selection of seagrass sites for study and conservation.

Evaluated site #2
Evaluated site #2
Evaluated Site #3
Evaluated Site #3
Evaluated Site #4
Evaluated Site #4
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Coral Gardeners
Coral Gardeners

Continuing with the restoration efforts of the Fundación Grupo Puntacana, the group of coral gardeners (Fausto, Joel and Alberto) has dedicated itself to planting 264 colonies of the staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), which represents 350.37 meters of live coral tissue, in the degraded reefs in the Punta Cana region since last March. Likewise, they supported the transplantation of 192 micro - fragments grown at the facilities of the Marine Innovation Center. Additionally, they have contributed with the evaluation of 12 of 61 coral transplant sites, which will help a more effective restoration of those sites that have been suitable to continue restoring them. Finally, the coral gardeners have been collaborating with other scientific restoration projects in charge of interns or volunteers of the CIM, with the purpose of improving the techniques and methodologies of the restoration efforts that the Foundation is currently carrying out.

Coral Gardeners 2
Coral Gardeners 2
Coral Gardeners 3
Coral Gardeners 3
Coral Gardens
Coral Gardens
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Organization Information

Fundación Grupo Puntacana

Location: Santo Domingo, no applicable - Dominican Republic
Website:
Project Leader:
Jacob Kheel
Vice President
Santo Domingo, no applicable Dominican Republic
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