Coral reefs thrive and provide maximal ecosystem services when they support a multilevel trophic structure and grow in favorable water quality conditions that include high light levels, rapid water flow, and low nutrient levels. Poor water quality and other anthropogenic stressors have caused coral mortality in recent decades, leading to trophic downgrading and the loss of biological complexity on many reefs. Solutions to reverse the causes of trophic downgrading remain elusive, in part because efforts to restore reefs are often attempted in the same diminished conditions that caused coral mortality in the first place. Coral Arks, positively buoyant, midwater structures, are designed to provide improved water quality conditions and supportive cryptic biodiversity for translocated and naturally recruited corals to assemble healthy reef mesocosms for use as longterm research platforms. Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), passive settlement devices, are used to translocate the cryptic reef biodiversity to the Coral Arks, thereby providing a "boost" to natural recruitment and contributing ecological support to the coral health. We modeled and experimentally tested two designs of Arks to evaluate the drag characteristics of the structures and assess their long-term stability in the midwater based on their response to hydrodynamic forces. We then installed two designs of Arks structures at two Caribbean reef sites and measured several water quality metrics associated with the Arks environment over time. At deployment and 6 months after, the Coral Arks displayed enhanced metrics of reef function, including higher flow, light, and dissolved oxygen, higher survival of translocated corals, and reduced sedimentation and microbialization relative to nearby seafloor sites at the same depth. This method provides researchers with an adaptable, long-term platform for building reef communities where local water quality conditions can be adjusted by altering deployment parameters such as the depth and site.
Journal of Visualized Experiments
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis and M. faveolata. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis and M. faveolata contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis and M. faveolata exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.