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Nursery Grown Native Corals Restoring Natural Reefs

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Courtesy photo.

Naturally slow growing species of native Hawaiian Coral species are responding well to controlled treatments to speed up their growth. The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources’ Ānuenue Coral Restoration Nursery on Sand Island is experiencing remarkable results from its first-of-its-kind experiment designed to help restore coral reefs.

Coral Ecologist David Gulko and his team have been taking small corals, mostly harvested from inside harbors and then given them hands on care in their nursery. “They’re given the best food, the best lighting, the best water conditions and lots of tender loving care; all in an effort to grow them at a fast rate,” said Gulko.

Once the corals are ready, they are placed on a “pyramid” platform, transported to Sand Island State Park, and placed in the ocean.  Using a specially formulated epoxy, they first clean the area, pat in the epoxy and affix the coral to the substrate. “We took a slow approach,” said Gulko, “because we wanted to work out all the bugs before starting to out-plant corals into natural reef environments, especially protected reef environments.  With the out planting we’re doing now and the nursery nearly ready, we’re ready to start scaling-up to full production shortly.”

In the first days after transplanting, the pyramids are checked frequently and then over time less often.  Since they grow much slower in their natural environment than in the nursery, you won’t expect to see huge jumps in size in the short-term.  However, at last check, the five pyramids now off Sand Island appear to be healthy and thriving. For Gulko and his team, this is not only exciting but proof of concept.

Hawai‘i has among the slowest coral growth rates in the world. Damaged, injured, sick, or degraded corals can take years if not decades to recover, if they ever do.

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