What is a Coral Garden?
The CCRRP’s coral garden consists of 23 underwater platforms just off the beach and no more than 30ft deep.
They serve as nurseries for corals that have been rescued from nearby reefs and new coral colonies that have been grown via lab fertilization. These platforms are tended to by Dr. Mendez and his many volunteers. They are also home to many marine creatures, who find shelter in the “artificial reef” such as sand rays, puffer fish, and damsel fish.
While primarily a conservation tool, we regularly give underwater tours to snorkelers and divers who wish to learn more about our work with coral.
You can find information about visiting our garden here.
There are two ways in which coral colonies reproduce: spawning and budding.
Corals only spawn once a year, releasing polyps into the open water. In the wild less than 5% of the spawn attach to a surface and survive to become polyps on new colonies. However, we can catch the polyps when they spawn and take them back to our lab. There we can grow 80% of polyps into mature corals and transplant them onto our platforms and eventually the reef. This is a very effective way to grow the coral population, but it takes resources and up to two months of constant monitoring. Within five years these corals will have formed colonies that can bud and spawn independently, beginning the cycle again.
Budding is a process in which corals clone themselves and expand on existing colonies. While budding is the fastest way for coral to reproduce, spawning is necessary for genetic diversity. We mimic both of these methods in our garden to help restore and conserve coral.
Our platforms are mostly populated with corals that have been rescued from nearby reefs. Despite their stony appearance, corals are easy to break. One of our main tasks is to rescue fragments that have been broken by hapless snorkelers and divers. Rather than let it slowly die on the ocean floor, our volunteers carefully transport the broken coral and use epoxy to replant it on our platforms. There it can be tended to while it heals and begins to regrow.
Tending to Coral
Due to our proximity to the cruise ship docks, fragments that have been restored on a platform need to be cleaned daily to protect them from sediment and fast growing algae. Our volunteers use a variety of brushes and tools to clean coral on the platforms, removing algaes that would otherwise overgrow the corals, blocking their access to sunlight necessary for photosynthesis.
Our Volunteers & Training
Taking care of our corals is a little like gardening, but underwater.
You’ll need to learn to scuba dive and how to control your movement so that you don’t knock into things. And then you’ll have to learn to clean them and transplant them without touching them because the bacteria on your skin can kill polyps. We take time to teach our volunteers in both theoretical knowledge (if you can’t recognize fire coral, you might get stung!) and practical knowledge before they are allowed to spend time working in the garden.
Tending to the coral garden is a unique experience that is both work and play - many of our volunteers have returned year after year to spend time with us! You can find out about volunteer opportunities and the courses we offer here.