Researcher aims to regrow coral


As a follow-up to our previous post, Caymans: Verdant Isle outlines coral relocation plan, James Whittaker (Cayman Compass) writes about a fascinating new method being implemented by Dr. David Vaughan, “a scientist whose methods have been heralded as a potential game-changer in the emerging field of growing corals.” Dr. Vaughan developed a microfragmenting technique that has been shown to allow corals to grow significantly faster than they would in nature. He has been recruited as part of the mitigation plan for the Verdant Isle cruise port.

The Verdant Isle consortium behind the $200 million construction project, which involves dredging more than 10 acres of coral reef habitat, hope the involvement of Dr. David Vaughan will help them offset some of that damage.

The Florida Keys-based scientist is known for developing a microfragmenting technique which has been shown, in lab tests, to allow corals to grow significantly faster than they would in nature.

The method differs from other coral-growing projects because it can be used for massive slow-growing corals, like mountainous star corals and brain corals, considered the building blocks of ancient reef systems. These corals typically grow at a rate of a millimetre a month.

Vaughan believes his techniques make it possible to grow these corals quickly and out-plant them to dying reefs. He said the method could be used to “reskin” a 100-year-old piece of dead brain coral with live tissue within two years. He has started a foundation, ‘Plant a Million Corals’, to help restore reef systems under threat from factors ranging from climate change and disease to marine construction.

Cayman lab

Verdant Isle recently announced plans to support Vaughan to the tune of $500,000 a year to set up a lab and coral nursery in Grand Cayman. The project would be funded through income from cruise-ship passenger fees, according to TJ O’Sullivan, of Royal Caribbean, one of the partners in the consortium. Vaughan said the aim would be to have a central location near the port where people could see the work in action. He said he could work with others currently involved in coral-replanting projects in the Cayman Islands to help revive ailing reefs.

He acknowledged the partnership with a consortium whose project will impact a significant amount of coral reef habitat was an unlikely marriage. [. . .]

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