Case Study: Costa Rica Coral Nurseries

Coral Nursery

Problem description

A coral reef encloses its eco system like a protective barrier and ensures with this to provide a living space for thousands of different sea dwellers. Young fish are growing here, crabs are finding a protective natural resort in its caves and gaps. When corals die, it sets off a chain reaction. This also means sooner or later the other sea dwellers are affected and die, or at least the biodiversity is reduced significantly. Besides its function as a habitat, corals have developed remarkable mechanisms to react to natural catastrophes like storm surges.

Widely unknown is the fact that corals are animals. They are often mistaken to be stones or plants. And they exist through a symbiotic relationship with a special species of algae. Scientists are warning that the breaking point is almost reached and urgent action is required.

Threatening for its continuing existence are predominantly factors like the global warming, overfishing, discharges from agriculture like fertilizers, bacteria from sanitary systems and corals being used for jewelry. All of these factors effect the algae as well and in consequence the coral. Without a vital balance between both algae and coral, coral cannot survive, leaving behind only a skeleton where life once thrived.. As a consequence, the eco system collapses..

If we want to protect the oceans, it’s time to focus in, and we don`t have much time left. Local research in the area of Costa Rica shows that 50% of all diversity is already lost, 50% have been bleached out and only 34% corals are still living. In short, the time to act is now.

But there is a way to help. Coral nurseries aid in the growth of new colonies and replantation efforts in areas where it is needed. After replantation, corals can be left to regrow and likewise, reestablish a new eco system for further inhabitants of the ocean. A coral nursery can be visualized as a school for little corals. Establishing a space for corals to grow, and then sending them out into the ocean to thrive. Worldwide 86 species of corals and more than 100.000 colonies have been successfully set up with different approaches of nursing them.

Coral Nursery

Vision/Aims

Costa Rica is home to one of the biggest bio diversities worldwide – on land and under water. Two founders established the non-profit organization, “ Marine Conservation Costa Rica “ in March 2019. They experience these diversities every day in their work. Within more than 14 years of experience, these professional divers holding scientific backgrounds, now have seen personally that the corals are in a threatening decline.

To do their work they have set up a whole new Marine Education Center , which ambitiously aims at facing this challenge, through a holistic and sustainable approach, supporting sustainability work within the Ocean– including everything that is needed to do so locally. The flagship project of the organization is the Coral Nursery and Rehabilitation and it is based on 5 different projects sites around Manuel Antonio/Quepos, one of the most beautiful Marine Parks worldwide according to FORBES.

The 3 most common corals Pavona Gigantea, Porites Lobata and Pocillopora are investigated here. First, the sites are determined via specific scientific criteria of a Reef Check, then coral samples are collected, brought here and a variety of trial approaches for coral nurseries are tested on effectiveness. The samples are continuously nurtured and maintained until grown colonies can be replanted in areas where needed.

Alongside this very practical approach, data sampiling is collected for future records in Manual Antonio/Quepos, which includes areas such as corals are measured, growth is documented, surrounding habitat is described etc.

Besides this main project the Marine Education Center has further aims:

  • Education of the local community: Workshops, talks, information material is offered to a variety of marine conservation related topics to create awareness
  • Education of local companies: Provision of workshops specifically important for operating companies to adjust their practices supporting marine conservation
  • Creating a local “Award”-System: Establishment of an award honoring sustainable, environmental friendly practices of local businesses
  • Create a Marine Conservation Curriculum: To be developed to be part of the curriculum of local schools
  • Addition of Marine Conservation Projects: Addition of further projects to address the multiple issues of marine conservation
  • Awareness on sustainable products: Publication and provision of sustainable local products including explanation how these support a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle

With this holistic approach, crucial aspects of marine conservation should be explored, and an essential foundation for the well-being of the Ocean is laid.

Coral Nursery

Success stories so far

As the organization was only built in March 2019 the project currently is in its pilot phase. First research is taking place, with the aim to gain valuable findings and ways to operate successfully in the future. All this coincides in cooperation with SINAC, which is in charge of all the Marine parks in Costa Rica and has authorized Marine Conservation Costa Rica to do these studies exclusively in the area of Manuel Antonio/Queops. All findings will be reported back to them so a valid database for this area will be created. Basis for the scientific work are findings and research papers of the University of Costa Rica. Due to the network of the Non-Profit Organization, SINAC and further project partners hold an overall aim of protecting the marine wildlife and wellbeing in this area. The current phase is highly interesting as it is doing pioneer work, conducting fundamental practical research and leaves space for creative ideas to promote and address these issues for the future.

Challenges

The biggest challenge with regards to the survival of the coral reefs is without a doubt the race against time. It is important to find out the most effective methods and sites locally to raise and relocate coral colonies. To do this, it is crucial to apply methods and findings which have been researched scientifically, as it is not enough to simply raise and relocate new corals. With the help of health surveys and reef check methods, different indicators are determined first and observed over time. With this background, new corals really have the chance to be relocated successfully and survive the challenges of today. Besides this, it is important to prevent developments like these in the future through education and awareness creation. The topic itself is highly interesting and fun, and will also give a totally new view on how our nature operates and what it needs to do so.

Most important facts – short summary

  • The Non-Profit organization Costa Rica Marine Conservation operates since March 2019 and was set up by two women which have been observing the decline of corals during the last 14 years and wanted to get active to stop these developments
  • Both are professional divers (PADI course director & PADI Master Instructor) with an additional university background in Marine and Environmental Protection
  • Three parties are working together on this: Costa Rica Marine Conservation (planning and conducting surveys), SINAC (management of the local Marine Parks) and the University of Costa Rica (provision of theoretical background)
  • Supporting volunteers will be specifically trained before they can take part in the coral nursery project (PADI Coral Rehabilitation certificate which was specifically developed for this matter). After this they can take part in lots of aspects of the current work like data collection, sample taking, coral measurement, maintenance, etc.)
  • In the future, the above mentioned aims of the Marine Education Center will be put into practice so further projects and tasks will arise.
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