Working to Increase Reef Resilience to Climate Change through Coral Restoration in the Bahamas
The Bahamas is a string of nearly 700 emerald islands and cays in azure waters stretching 100,000 mi2 from the Florida Keys to Hispaniola, home to the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Bahamian islands are rich in marine life and replete with coppice, mangrove, pine forests and a wealth of endemic species. Each year millions of visitors flock to these islands’ breathtaking natural beauty, and tourism accounts for around 60% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The Bahamas are known for their natural resources, which are healthier than many other islands throughout the Caribbean. Though the marine environment plays a critical role in supporting the Bahamanian way of life, many Bahamians are not fully aware of its value.
Coral reef populations in the Bahamas are declining due to both natural and anthropogenic factors. Bahamian marine environments are primarily impacted by fishery and tourism related activities throughout the archipelago. Localized effects of large-scale development have greater impact near those developments. In the Bahamas these developments are concentrated on the islands of New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located, and Grand Bahama, where the second city of Freeport is located.
Together with conservation partners, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the Bahamas is working to improve the conditions of coral reefs through stewardship and management. Efforts have been made to develop a coral reef conservation strategy that focuses on coral reef monitoring and research; recruiting and training Bahamians in coral reef research and restoration methods and conducting marine outreach and education initiatives taking into consideration the effects of climate change. Building the country’s capacity and increasing community awareness of the importance of coral reefs and other marine resources is critical to the long-term sustainability of these resources.
Coral Reef Restoration Strategies
The Blue Project began in 2007 in the waters near New Providence Paradise and Rose Islands, which sit in the center of the Bahamian archipelago near the deep Tongue of the Atlantic Ocean. The Blue Project is designed to fund the development of innovative strategies and practices that help preserve and restore coral reefs.
The Blue Project (now known as the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation) began in 2007 in the waters near New Providence Paradise and Rose Islands, which sit in the center of the Bahamian archipelago near the deep Tongue of the Atlantic Ocean. The project is designed to support the development of innovative strategies and practices that help preserve and restore coral reefs.
In 2011, the Atlantis Blue Project and its partners received permission from local government agencies to begin coral propagation at sites around New Providence Island. The initial permit allowed the establishment of the nursery sites and the collection of damaged coral colonies. Since then, TNC has expanded its scope of work by combining efforts under other projects with the Atlantis Blue Project, to establish coral nurseries throughout the Bahamas. To date, more than 4,000 Acropora fragments nurseries have been established in Southwest New Providence, Paradise Island, and Andros Island. The fragments in the Southwest New Providence nursery were used for outplanting in April 2014. This project follows TNC and partner successes of coral propagation and coral nurseries in the Florida Keys and US Virgin Islands as well as input from consultants who have conducted coral nursery efforts in the country.
In March 2014, Dr. Craig Dahlgren of the Perry Institute for Marine Science and science lead of the Atlantis Blue Project, led a young, vibrant team of researchers and volunteers to help maintain and repair the existing coral propagation units (CPUs) or “coral nurseries” within the lagoon and outdoor aquarium facilities at Atlantis. They also worked to expand the nurseries to other suitable areas on the property. The team built different types of CPUs which included CPUs constructed from monofilament lines and PVC pipes after taking into consideration site selection and environmental factors. Fragments of opportunity (i.e. broken coral fragments of Acropora species) that rest on the sea bottom were collected from areas around Rose Island and stored in one of Atlantis’ outdoor sea water waterfall areas until ready for use. The team installed four single level nurseries containing 17-21 coral fragments in the upper falls area. Also, three, two-level CPUs consisting of up to 32 coral fragments were deployed in another section of the upper Voyager falls area. The original line nurseries in the Atlantis lagoon from near the bridge area were also moved to a nearby section of the lagoon, along a seawall where the water is deeper and the area can be easily closed off to water resource users (i.e. snorkelers, kayakers, etc.). However people will still be able to view corals along the lines. There are now 4 line nurseries with 18 coral fragments per line. In total, the Atlantis nurseries contain over 200 coral fragments.
How successful has it been?
After one year, just under half of the mangroves planted were still alive and many showed significant growth. While just under 50% survival may not seem like a lot, many of those that died were:
- planted at the high and low tolerance ranges of the species in this system,
- from freshwater systems and planted to a salt water environment, or
- ones whose root systems were compromised when they were dug up and not expected to have high survival.
Lessons learned and recommendations
- The plantings with the greatest survival and remarkable growth were those planted as propagules or small “seedlings”. Mangroves from the Atlantis nursery averaged 50% survival, with much of the mortality thought to be from root damage when plants were removed from their plastic pots. Improved handling techniques during plantings may greatly improve these results.
- Surviving mangroves appear to be stabilizing the shoreline of the channel, enhancing natural mangrove recruitment rates, and providing habitat for fish. Prior to the restoration and rehabilitation efforts, the area had no fish. One year later parts of the area are teemed with small snapper, damselfish and needlefish, barracuda and even bonefish! Further monitoring will continue to document changes in mangrove and fish communities as part of this project.
Each partner is funded directly from the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation and The Nature Conservancy coordinates activities, including logistics, communication and reporting. Formerly: Kerzner Marine Foundation and currently: the Atlantis Blue Project.