GREENSBORO, NC — Rachel Rodgers, coral aquarist in the Wiseman Aquarium at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), participated in a five-day coral restoration workshop at Mote Marine Laboratory in December, 2018. Rodgers’ participation was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.
The workshop was led by Dr. David Vaughan, President and founder of Plant A Million Corals and former Senior Scientist and Program Manager at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. Workshop participants were exposed to the history of coral restoration (both land-based and ocean nurseries), coral reproduction and the future of restoring coral reefs in light of bleaching, or starvation, episodes occurring around the world.
The workshop offered hands-on experience in land-based micro-fragmentation and fusion coral restoration efforts. Participants learned how micro-fragmentation expedites the growth of corals. Using a specialized saw to cut very small pieces of coral, usually 1-5 polyps, the coral tissue is stimulated to grow, allowing scientists to clone at 25-50 times the normal growth rate. Clone fragments of coral recognize each other and fuse together to form large colonies. By implementing techniques such as micro-fragmenting and fusion, scientists and aquarists hope to bolster the resilience of reefs at local scales.
Workshop participants included coral biologists, conservationists and academics who have been doing coral fragmentation on existing reefs. As the only aquarist to participate, Rodgers brought valuable knowledge about land-based work to the team, including water quality, building of aquarium systems and coral husbandry. Now that the workshop is complete, Rodgers is excited to maintain relationships she built during the experience. She plans to continue collaborating with fellow participants so coral labs can be built all around the world.
“This workshop brought a lot of hope,” Rodgers says. “You hear ‘50% of coral reefs are bleached and 30% are dead’ and you begin to feel hopeless. But, when you have dedicated people learning to build reefs, there is hope for coral reefs.” This experience not only taught Rodgers techniques for restoring corals, but strengthened her passion for the work she does as well as drew her into a world of coral restoration opportunities.
Rodgers was one of three staff who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.
Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC says, “The GSC research committee is thrilled to be able to offer this grant opportunity. There is such gratification in seeing the hope, passion and illumination in the eyes of staff who experience field conservation work and become re-energized to do what they can to conserve wildlife.”