The University of Miami’s (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has won a two-year award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support research in coral conservation.
The grant will support coral propagation and restoration efforts necessary to help with the recovery of threatened coral species and increased resilience of coastal communities in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.
This project is a collaboration between UM coral biologists Diego Lirman and Andrew Baker, NOAA’s Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Program, Miami Science Barge, and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.
Healthy reefs shape coastlines and provide the first line of defense against weather hazards such as hurricanes. Coral reefs can reduce wave energy by up to 97 percent, thereby protecting low-lying coastlines from erosion and flooding, and by trapping sediments and limiting the need for costly beach renourishment projects.
“The need to enhance resilience through management action is crucial in urban-influenced ecosystems where human and natural stressors interact,” said UM Rosenstiel School Associate Professor Diego Lirman, co-lead investigator of the project. “South Florida has been identified as a global hotspot for coastal urbanization, and the synergistic man-made stressors of habitat fragmentation, overfishing, and pollution, make it an ideal setting for this project.”
Rebuilding healthy and physically complex coral reefs has been shown to be a cost-efficient, natural way to enhance fisheries habitat, promote recreational diving, and buffer the threats of coastal hazards. Coral reef restoration as a natural restoration solution is considered to be two to five times cheaper than using artificial structures.
“Restored reefs, unlike artificial structures, are self-building and self-repairing,” said UM Associate Professor Andrew Baker, co-lead investigator of the project for UM. “They are able to continue to accrete and grow after deployment, catch up to projected sea-level rise, and build long-term resilience to storms.”
During the project, the researchers will outplant nursery-raised staghorn corals onto nearshore reef habitats within Miami-Dade County, identify resilient coral genotypes able to survive the impacts of extreme temperature changes, and develop an outreach and education program to engage the public and coral reef conservation and restoration.
The research and restoration activities will be showcased through interactive public displays as part of the Frost Science Museum’s Inventor-in-Residence program, where the Baker lab will be running experiments in the museum’s Knight Learning Center to increase coral thermal tolerance. The public can get directly involved in restoration through the UM Rescue a Reef program, where citizen scientists will be able to plant nursery-grown corals onto depleted reefs alongside scientists.