Saving Antigua and Barbuda’s reefs – major progress at NPA coral nursery

Populated coral tree
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By Kadeem Joseph

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With human activity and climate change threatening the very survival of coral reefs, aquatic structures that serve as habitats for thousands of species of fish and other animals, efforts to boost the country’s stock has been moving apace.

Now in its second year, the National Parks Authority’s (NPA) coral nursery project has transformed once barren scaffolding into a vibrant and flourishing aquatic garden that has already been frequented by fish.

Marine ecologist with the NPA, Ruleo Camacho, said plans are now to begin the process of expanding the project in order to cultivate more fragments.

“The coral nursery is growing quite a bit. At the start of this year, we had about 300 fragments. We just added another six coral trees and each of those trees will hold 600 fragments over the next month,” he said, noting that with the help of several other agencies, the NPA plans to add another eight to 10 coral trees and additional structures to support their efforts.

Camacho is hopeful that the expansion will mean that by the end of 2022, the nursery will be home to 1,500-2,000 coral fragments.

So far, the team has opted to nurse the fast growing and sturdy acropora species of coral in English Harbour.

While the NPA has proven that it is possible to successfully grow these fragments of coral in the waters near the iconic Pillars of Hercules, the next step is to begin transplanting the sensitive fragments.

“We aim to start doing some outplanting exercises this year, where we start to test our ability to outplant coral fragments,” Camacho said.

“We will probably do that after the brunt of the hurricane season, given that we have had some issues … because of rough sea weather.”

He said the aim is to have a “large scale” coral planting exercise in 2023 as the nursery continues to expand.

For many, coral reefs may seem to be natural structures, plants even, that provide nooks and crannies for sea creatures to call home, but the visible structures are actually the hardened secretions of thousands of tiny animals known as polyps.

Over the next three years, the plan is to have up to 3,000 coral fragments of varying species to include brain corals, porites, and dendrogyras.

Camacho explained that the NPA will rely on marine assessments in order to determine which areas surrounding the twin island state are in the greatest need of replenishing.

Scientists have warned that the world’s coral reefs, otherwise known as “forests of the ocean”, remain under threat due to global warming brought on by climate change.

When stressed, coral expel symbiotic algae, a process known as coral bleaching and ultimately die.

Over time, the once thriving colonies lose their ability to support important aquatic life.

If successful, Camacho and the NPA team are hoping to keep the waters surrounding the country, frequented by residents and vacationers alike, rich with vital species of coral.

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