The use of sexually propagated corals is gaining popularity as an approach for reef restoration. However, manually attaching substrates with recently settled corals to the reef using binding materials is both time-consuming and expensive, limiting the use of this technique to small spatial scales. We present a novel approach whereby young corals are ‘seeded’ on the reef without the need for manual attachment to the benthos. We tested two tetrapod-shaped concrete substrates (7.9 and 9.8 cm in diameter) on which coral larvae were settled. The tetrapods were e ciently deployed by wedging them in reef crevices, in 1.5 to 7% of the time required for traditional outplanting techniques. Seeding tetrapods was most e ective in reefs with moderately to highly complex topographies, where they rapidly became lodged in crevices or cemented to the benthos by encrusting organisms. After one year, average recruit survival was 9.6% and 67% of tetrapods still harboured at least one coral colony, and overall, this approach resulted in a 5 to 18 fold reduction in outplanting costs compared to common outplanting methods. This seeding approach represents a substantial reduction in costs and time required to introduce sexually propagated corals to reefs, and could possibly enable larger scale reef restoration.
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) populations provide important ecological functions on shallow Caribbean reefs, many of which were lost when a disease reduced their abundance by more than 95% beginning in the mid-1970s. Since then, a lack of significant recovery has prompted rehabilitation initiatives throughout the Caribbean. Here, we report the first successful outplanting and long-term survival of A. palmatasettlers reared from gametes collected in the field. A. palmata larvae were settled on clay substrates (substrate units) and either outplanted on the reef two weeks after settlement or kept in a land-based nursery. After 2.5 years, the survival rate of A. palmata settlers outplanted two weeks after settlement was 6.8 times higher (3.4%) than that of settlers kept in a land-based nursery (0.5%). Furthermore, 32% of the substrate units on the reef still harbored one or more well-developed recruit compared to 3% for substrate units kept in the nursery. In addition to increasing survival, outplanting A. palmata settlers shortly after settlement reduced the costs to produce at least one 2.5-year-old A. palmataindividual from $325 to $13 USD. Thus, this study not only highlights the first successful long-term rearing of this critically endangered coral species, but also shows that early outplanting of sexually reared coral settlers can be more cost-effective than the traditional approach of nursery rearing for restoration efforts aimed at rehabilitating coral populations.