The St Maarten Nature Foundation is restoring Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (A. cervicornis) coral reef zones by establishing a coral nursery to grow coral fragments and transplant corals at selected restoration sites. The goal is to raise these new coral colonies in nurseries to repopulate denuded coral reefs with fresh corals. Small colonies are specifically selected for characteristics such as robustness and fast growth to create resilient populations of new corals.

Coral reefs form some of the planet’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, providing numerous ecosystem goods and services. Until the 1980’s Acropora (Elkhorn and Staghorn) coral species dominated the near shore zone of many Caribbean islands with cover estimates of up to 85%, however, Elkhorn and Staghorn coral reef zones have almost disappeared from most islands in the region largely as a result of White Band Disease. They are currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.

The loss of these corals has had large negative effects on biodiversity, biomass of fishes, and coastal protection as well as a significant decline in the attractiveness of the shallow reefscape. Some colonies have survived the outbreak of White Band Disease and have been reported to be resistant to the disease which still persists with much-reduced virulence. The remnant colonies have as yet not been able to recolonize the reef to anywhere near their former occurrence. The coral restoration project will help Acropora species to recolonize and recover on the reefs of St Maarten.