The grant will fund the first coral rearing lab in Honduras and development of more effective techniques for coral conservation
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (October 30, 2023) — The California Academy of Sciences and Roatán Marine Park have been awarded a $1.5 million grant to construct the first coral rearing facility in Honduras and test the most effective methods to restore coral reefs on the island of Roatán.
In partnership with Honduras-based nonprofit Roatán Marine Park (RMP), the Academy research team will develop new techniques to promote the survival of young corals, apply these techniques to Roatán’s rapidly degrading coral reefs, and provide coral husbandry training for researchers from RMP and beyond. Awarded by the Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform (CORDAP), the generous grant supports the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative to reverse the rapid decline of our planet’s coral reefs by 2030.
An estimated 90% of juvenile corals die within their first six months of life. Over the next three years, Academy researchers will test several interventions to improve the health, growth, and survival of coral larvae in the Academy’s Coral Regeneration Lab (CoRL) and apply the most effective methods to coral colonies within the Caribbean’s Mesoamerican Reef.
“Corals experience high levels of early mortality, which are currently being worsened by increasingly adverse environmental conditions,” says Rebecca Albright, PhD, the Academy’s curator of invertebrate zoology and founder of CoRL. “On top of stressors like ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures, the Mesoamerican Reef is rapidly losing coral colonies to stony coral tissue loss disease. This decline in coral populations has led to lower genetic diversity on the reef, leaving it more susceptible to local and global stressors. Thanks to CORDAP’s support, we hope to increase the overall number of sexually reproducing corals in this critical ecosystem, bolstering the reef’s genetic diversity and making it more resilient to a changing environment.”
The three-year project will kick off in December 2023, when three members of the RMP research team will travel to San Francisco to assist with the Academy’s annual two-week spawning event and subsequent larval propagation.
New coral rearing lab
In early 2024, the research team will begin construction on a coral rearing lab in the Roatán Marine Park—the first facility of its kind in Honduras. Corals will be monitored in nurseries on the reef, which can be transferred to land-based facilities for additional testing. This new facility will also serve as a training center for coral husbandry and assisted sexual reproduction, where the team will develop manuals in both English and Spanish to support coral restoration efforts throughout the region.
For RMP Program Manager Andrea Godoy, the new coral rearing lab presents exciting opportunities to collaborate with researchers working to reverse the degradation of the Mesoamerican Reef. “This collaboration represents a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about these innovative approaches to reef restoration from leading international coral reproduction experts. The facilities that will be installed and capacities that will be enhanced from these efforts will undoubtedly prove beneficial for the country and the Mesoamerican Reef region, broadening our reach and further fueling our research potential,” Godoy said. “We expect that the implementation of these interventions in Honduras will have a significant positive impact on these vulnerable ecosystems that goes far beyond the three-year project.”
Testing three promising strategies
Before corals grow into their familiar calcified structures, they begin their life as free-swimming larvae in search of an ideal place to metamorphose and permanently settle. This “settlement” stage is a highly intensive process during which many young corals deplete their energy reserves. In order to shepherd coral larvae through this critical bottleneck, Albright and the CoRL team have identified three promising therapies that could lead to more resilient individuals:
- Increasing water alkalinity to enhance early skeletal formation in corals.
- Dosing larvae with amino acids to nutritionally assist coral growth and development.
- Inoculating larvae with algae that may serve as a supplemental energy source.
In addition to these three new interventions, the research team will also selectively breed for heat-tolerant individuals, which are likely to be more resilient to rising ocean temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels. This enhanced culturing will initially take place at the California Academy of Sciences using the Indo-Pacific coral species Acropora millepora. The most effective interventions will then be applied in the field at the Roatán Marine Park, where they will be tested across a range of species at sites that have been affected by stony coral tissue loss disease.
“These are low-tech, low-cost interventions that can easily be replicated on coral reefs around the world,” says Academy researcher Elora López-Nandam, PhD. “By providing in-country training and introducing effective techniques that require minimal infrastructure, we hope to help equip conservation managers and practitioners in developing countries to increase local coral cover and ultimately create a global network of partners working towards regenerating reefs.”
The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in biodiversity science, environmental learning, and collaborative engagement—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.
The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 450 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for ensuring they thrive into the future. Through deeply collaborative partnerships and innovative public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet.
Roatán Marine Park is a community-based, non-profit organization dedicated to conserving Honduras’ marine and coastal ecosystems. We work closely with communities to provide education, training and improve the conservation of marine ecosystems and associated species. Our mission is accomplished through our broad range of programs and resources, none of which would be possible without the support of our local community, partners, and donors. We work in the Bay Islands National Marine Park (BINMP), the largest marine protected area in Honduras with approximately 650,000 hectares. The BINMP is part of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), the second-largest barrier reef in the world, and is shared by four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Its biodiversity contributes economically to the livelihood and social well-being of all of those who live and visit this region.
The Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform – CORDAP – was launched in 2020 by the G20 to fast-track research and development solutions to save the world’s corals. CORDAP brings together the best minds worldwide, in a transdisciplinary approach, to accelerate and scale up the development of new technologies that support international coral conservation efforts needed to secure a future for tropical coral reefs and cold-water corals.