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Image by Tomoe Steineck

Staghorn Rope Outplanting Technique

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Restoration Activity

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Jan 1, 2019

Florida Keys, Florida, USA

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Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is commonly used in restoration projects throughout the Caribbean region. CRF has outplanted tens of thousands of staghorn colonies throughout the Florida Keys in the past decade. However, due to logistical limitations (eg transport of colonies from in-situ nursery to reef site, ease of outplanting via epoxy), the colonies are typically no larger than 15-20 centimeters in maximum diameter. This is in spite of the fact that CRF regular grows healthy colonies in excess of 75 centimeters in its nurseries.

These small corals must be planted in “clusters” or “cohorts” of 20-70 colonies so that individuals will eventually fuse into a large, sexually mature and ecologically relevant 3-D structure that supports reef-building and provides substantial habitat for reef organisms. This process can take anywhere from 1-3 years depending on the initial size of the individuals and clusters, and their spacing on the reef site.

To fast track the creation of sexually mature colonies that provide immediate structure to the reef, CRF has explored a novel outplant technique that involves outplanting large, structurally complex colonies of staghorn coral by “lashing” them to the seafloor with biodegradable hemp rope and small nails. This technique avoid the use of marine epoxy, which is traditionally used to attach the smaller staghorn colonies to the reef but would prove ineffective for outplanting the top-heavy and prohibitively branch-y larger colonies. With this technique, the hemp rope serves as an anchor, holding the corals in place on the reef until their branch tips can grow and naturally attach to the substrate. Over the course of time, the hemp rope degrades and eventually breaks down completely, leaving behind an attached, fully mature staghorn colony or thicket.

Image by Dustin Humes

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