Coral reef restoration

New study aids in sea urchin restoration efforts

Nederlands below:

Diadema sea-urchins play a vital role in maintaining a balanced coral reef ecosystem and their restoration is essential to assist recovery of the degraded coral reefs around Saba and St. Eustatius. A collaborative effort between University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein, WUR, STENAPA, CNSI and NIOZ studied settlement rates of sea-urchin larvae. The new findings provide insight into why the Diadema population has not been restored since the massive die-off in the mid 1980’s and are important for developing and implementing effective sea urchin restoration projects.

Diadema sea urcin settler (~0.5 mm) on a bio ball, one of the settlement substrates studied. Credit: Alwin Hylkema

Long-spined sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) play a critical role in maintaining healthy coral reefs. They help sustain the delicate balance within the reef by grazing on algae, which are the main competitors of corals. Unfortunately, in the mid-1980s, a disease swept through the Caribbean, wiping out nearly the entire sea urchin population. Soon after, reports of rapid algae growth were documented throughout the Caribbean. The algae occupy all available space, preventing coral recruitment and limiting the coral reef’s ability to recover from other disturbances. So far, recovery ofD. antillarum populations has been very slow to nonexistent. In the few areas where sea urchins were able to naturally recover, these trends were reversed, highlighting the importance of restoring this keystone species.

Studying sea-urchin settlement

A collaborative study between Van Hall Larenstein, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), STENAPA, Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) and NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research worked to unravel the mystery behind the slow recovery rate of these vital species. As both juveniles and adults are absent from most reefs, it is likely that the bottle-neck in D. antillarum recovery occurs in the first phase of the life cycle. Sea urchins start their life as larvae and remain the water column for 30-60 days, until they find a suitable place to settle. Understanding settlement rates and patterns will help understand the slow recovery and guide recovery efforts moving forward.

Effectiveness of settlement collectors

Diadema sea urchin juvenile on a settlement panel, one of the studied settlement collectors. Credit: Alwin Hylkema

Settlement collectors were set up in five different locations around the island of St. Eustatius. Between April and December 2019, researchers carefully monitored and analyzed the settlement rates by counting each individual sea urchin larvae which settled on the collectors. Over these 10 months, more than 890 sea urchin settlers were collected. Furthermore, this study compared different materials to identify the most suitable settlement collector for Diadema sea urchins. These materials included panels, artificial turf, bio balls, frayed ropes and a doormat collector. Results showed both the bio ball and doormat collectors were most effective, especially when placed mid-water column.

The mystery behind the slow recovery

Despite high settlement densities on several locations, no juvenile or adult sea urchins were observed on the reefs around the settlement collectors. This hints that there are likely other reasons these populations have been unable to recover around the island. Furthermore, previously conducted reef surveys from 2017 through 2019 found less than 0.01 sea urchins per square meter, far below pre-die-off densities. The fact that this study proves there are sea urchin larvae in the water paired with the lack of juveniles on reefs could be an indication of high predation pressures on settlers on the reef.

Future Populations

One solution which may aid in the restoration of this species would be to collect settlers from the reef and raise them in land-based nurseries. This would protect them from predation early in life and allow them to grow to adequate size before being returned to the reef. In order for this to be economically feasible, high numbers of settlers would need to be collected. Studies such as this can help the islands design and implement effective methods to restore Diadema sea urchins, which can help coral reefs to recover from disturbances naturally.

To learn more, you can read the full article on the DCBD by using the link below.

See also the recent item in Atlas (NPO2) in Dutch- starts at 22 min:

https://www.npostart.nl/atlas/02-02-2022/VPWON_1335373

 

More info in the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database

 

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Belangrijke nieuwe inzichten voor het herstel van zee-egels

Diadema-zee-egels spelen een belangrijke rol binnen een gezond koraalrifecosysteem en hun herstel is essentieel voor het herstel van de aangetaste koraalriffen rondom Saba en St. Eustatius. Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein, WUR, STENAPA, CNSI en NIOZ onderzochten de vestigingssnelheid van zee-egellarven. De nieuwe bevindingen geven inzicht in waarom de Diadema-populatie niet is hersteld sinds de massale sterfte in het midden van de jaren tachtig en zijn belangrijk voor het ontwikkelen en uitvoeren van effectieve herstelprojecten voor zee-egels.

De zee-egel (Diadema antillarum) speelt een cruciale rol bij het in stand houden van gezonde koraalriffen. Ze helpen het evenwicht in het rif te behouden door te grazen op algen, de belangrijkste concurrenten van koralen. Helaas raasde halverwege de jaren tachtig een ziekte door het Caribisch gebied, waarbij bijna de hele zee-egelpopulatie werd uitgeroeid. Kort daarna werd in het hele Caribisch gebied toename in algengroei waargenomen. De algen nemen alle beschikbare ruimte in beslag, waardoor nieuwe koralen zich moeilijk kunnen vestigen en het vermogen van het koraalrif om te herstellen van andere verstoringen wordt beperkt. Tot op heden is het herstel van D. antillarum-populaties erg traag tot niet-bestaand. In de weinige gebieden waar zee-egels zich op natuurlijke wijze wel konden herstellen, werden deze trends omgekeerd, wat het belang van het herstel van deze soort benadrukt.

Bestuderen van zee-egels

Diadema zee-egel (~0,5 mm) gevestigd op een biobal, een van de onderzochte vestigingssubstraten. Credit: A. Hylkema

Een gezamenlijke studie tussen Van Hall Larenstein, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), STENAPA, Caribisch Nederlands Instituut voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (CNSI) en NIOZ Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee heeft het mysterie achter het trage herstel van deze vitale soorten ontrafeld. Aangezien zowel juvenielen als volwassenen afwezig zijn op de meeste riffen, is het waarschijnlijk dat het knelpunt bij het herstel van D. antillarum optreedt in de eerste fase van de levenscyclus. Zee-egels beginnen hun leven als larve en blijven 30-60 dagen in de waterkolom, totdat ze een geschikte plek hebben gevonden om zich te vestigen. Het bestuderen van deze eerste levensfase zal helpen bij inzicht te krijgen in het langzame herstel en helpen bij herstel projecten.

Verzamelen van zee-egellarven

Diadema zee-egel juveniel op een vestigingspaneel, een van de bestudeerde vestigingsverzamelaars. Credit A. Hylkema

Op vijf verschillende locaties rond het eiland Sint Eustatius werden verzamelaars geplaatst waar zee-egellarven zich op kunnen vestigen. Tussen april en december 2019 hebben onderzoekers de vestigingspercentages nauwkeurig gevolgd en geanalyseerd door elke individuele zee-egellarven te tellen die zich op de verzamelaars vestigden. In deze 10 maanden werden meer dan 890 zee-egelkolonisten verzameld. Bovendien vergeleek deze studie verschillende materialen om de meest geschikte verzamelaar voor Diadema-zee-egels te identificeren. Deze materialen waren onder andere panelen, kunstgras, bioballen, gerafelde touwen en deurmatten. De resultaten toonden aan dat zowel de biobal ​​als de deurmatverzamelaars het meest effectief waren, vooral wanneer ze midden in de waterkolom werden geplaatst.

Het mysterie achter het langzame herstel

Ondanks de hoge vestigingsdichtheid op verschillende locaties, werden er geen juveniele of volwassen zee-egels waargenomen op de riffen rond de verzamelaars. Dit wijst erop dat er waarschijnlijk andere redenen zijn waarom deze populaties zich rond het eiland niet hebben kunnen herstellen. Bovendien vonden onderzoekers bij eerder uitgevoerde rifonderzoeken in 2017 -2019 minder dan 0,01 zee-egels per vierkante meter, ver beneden de dichtheden voor de massale sterfte. Het feit dat deze studie aantoont dat er zee-egellarven in het water zijn in combinatie met het gebrek aan juvenielen op de riffen, kan een indicatie zijn van hoge predatiedruk op de zee-egels op het rif.

Toekomstige zee-egel populaties

Een oplossing die kan zou kunnen helpen bij het herstel van deze soort zou zijn om gevestigde jonge zee-egels van het rif te verzamelen en ze op te kweken in aquaria op het land. Dit zou hen op jonge leeftijd tegen predatie beschermen en hen in staat stellen om voldoende groot te worden voordat ze naar het rif worden teruggebracht. Om dit economisch haalbaar te maken, zouden grote aantallen jonge zee-egels moeten worden verzameld. Studies zoals deze kunnen de eilanden helpen bij het ontwerpen en implementeren van effectieve methoden om Diadema-zee-egels te herstellen, wat koraalriffen kan helpen om op natuurlijke wijze te herstellen van verstoringen.

Lees meer over over deze studie in Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database

Of zie het recente item in Atlas (NPO2) – start bij 22 min:

https://www.npostart.nl/atlas/02-02-2022/VPWON_1335373

More info in the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database

 

 

 

 

Published in BioNews 51

Date
2022
Data type
Media
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Eustatius
Author

Engineered substrates reveal species-specific inorganic cues for coral larval settlement

ABSTRACT: The widespread loss of stony reef-building coral populations has been compounded by the low settlement and survival of coral juveniles. To rebuild coral communities, restoration practitioners have developed workflows to settle vulnerable coral larvae in the laboratory and outplant settled juveniles back to natural and artificial reefs. These workflows often make use of natural biochemical settlement cues, which are presented to swimming larvae to induce settlement. This paper establishes the potential for inorganic cues to complement these known biochemical effects. Settlement substrates were fabricated from calcium carbonate, a material present naturally on reefs, and modified with additives including sands, glasses, and alkaline earth carbonates. Experiments with larvae of two Caribbean coral species revealed additive-specific settlement preferences that were independent of bulk surface properties such as mean roughness and wettability. Instead, analyses of the substrates suggest that settling coral larvae can detect localized topographical features more than an order of magnitude smaller than their body width and can sense and positively respond to soluble inorganic minerals such as silica (SiO2) and strontianite (SrCO3). These findings open a new area of research in coral reef restoration, in which composite substrates can be designed with a combination of natural organic and inorganic additives to increase larval settlement and perhaps also improve post-settlement growth, mineralization, and defense.

Date
2022
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Curacao

Ecological solutions to reef degradation: optimizing coral reef restoration in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic

Reef restoration activities have proliferated in response to the need to mitigate coral declines and recover lost reef structure, function, and ecosystem services. Here, we describe the recent shift from costly and complex engineering solutions to recover degraded reef structure to more economical and efficient ecological approaches that focus on recovering the living components of reef communities. We review the adoption and expansion of the coral gardening framework in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic where practitioners now grow and outplant 10,000’s of corals onto degraded reefs each year. We detail the steps for establishing a gardening program as well as long-term goals and direct and indirect benefits of this approach in our region. With a strong scientific basis, coral gardening activities now contribute significantly to reef and species recovery, provide important scientific, education, and outreach opportunities, and offer alternate livelihoods to local stakeholders. While challenges still remain, the transition from engineering to ecological solutions for reef degradation has opened the field of coral reef restoration to a wider audience poised to contribute to reef conservation and recovery in regions where coral losses and recruitment bottlenecks hinder natural recovery.

Date
2016
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Curacao

Restoration of critically endangered elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) populations using larvae reared from wild-caught gametes, Global Ecology and Conservation

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.

Date
2016
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Curacao