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Student leads snorkeling volunteers on reef restoration

Student leads snorkeling volunteers on reef restoration

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Nursery corals grow on PVC pipes or hanging on strings. Buoys keep the frames afloat. PC: Nicole Burns Nursery corals grow on PVC pipes or hanging on strings. Buoys keep the frames afloat. PC: Nicole Burns
Volunteer Joyce Merino ties staghorn coral fragments to stakes. Photo credit: Nicole Burns. Volunteer Joyce Merino ties staghorn coral fragments to stakes. Photo credit: Nicole Burns.

University of Guam Master of Science in Biology student and UOG Sea Grant Fellow Nicole Burns piloted a volunteer effort to "plant" corals in a patch where many had died.

Sea Grant Fellows, who are UOG graduate students receiving funds to support their research, must implement outreach activities as part of their proposed work plans. Historically, Fellows have conducted public talks as outreach—and this was the first to require mask, snorkel, fins, and duck dives.

Burns belongs to a cohort at Dr. Laurie Raymundo's lab expanding scientific knowledge of corals, threats to their survival, and solutions for how to restore them on Guam's reefs. During her time at UOG, Burns has helped maintain a coral nursery, which resembles those for plants. In the latter, growers sprout seeds and care for seedlings until they are strong enough to survive outside their pots and in the ground. Similarly, coral nurseries are environments where fragments can grow before transplanting them into the reef.

Burns observes corals as they develop and then "outplants," or transfers them, to degraded reef areas. A significant portion of her research explores conditions under which corals optimally grow. Given that rising ocean temperatures, pollution, and various human activities have contributed to a 40% global decline in coral reefs, nurseries are potentially useful and important sites for experiments and rearing.

April's eight-day International Coral Spawning Workshop, coordinated in part by Raymundo, brought together specialists who learned about coral reproduction and how to raise them in controlled conditions.

After a safety and dive briefing, Burns led six volunteers and supervisors to tour the coral nursery. For the next hour, volunteers then attached coral fragments to stakes with zip ties. Stakes are at depths of about six feet, thus requiring participants to exercise some breath-holding and aquatic skill. Volunteer Joyce Merino pointed out that one of the more difficult aspects of outplanting was "being able to snorkel with fins in such a shallow and small area and not destroying the corals ourselves with all the kicking."

 Indeed, Burns mentions that water enthusiasts can help reefs by not disturbing or breaking the corals. "Because corals take so long to grow, it is imperative that we let them do it in peace. By knocking into and breaking corals, we could be destroying decades, or even centuries-worth of growth, within seconds," she says.

For more information about Sea Grant Fellows or science-based community education events, contact Marie Auyong at auyongm@triton.uog.edu.

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