Cultured sea fans to be re-seeded in Florida keys national marine sanctuary

FORT PIERCE, FL., MARCH 21, 2002 - In what may be the first such attempt, a HARBOR BRANCH marine biologist will take sea fans (a soft coral) that are being grown in captivity, and re-seed them on a portion of reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that was heavily damaged when a ship ran aground there in 1989.

HARBOR BRANCH Reef Restoration Biologist Kevin Gaines, who hopes to re-seed the reef April 10th, said it is a giant step in a project with two main goals; to better learn how to conserve and restore coral reefs, and to learn how to culture soft coral in recirculating systems under controlled conditions, so that soft coral can be harvested for re-seeding projects such as this one, as well as for the aquarium industry.

This is the first time sea fans have been successfully cultured on this scale in artificial conditions, and if successful, will mark the first time this species of coral has been harvested, grown in tanks, then harvested again and re-seeded into a natural habitat.

There have been many challenges, Gaines said.

First, before we ever collected our cuttings, our broodstock if you will, we had to build a closed recirculating system in which the sea fans could survive, Gaines said. Such a system had to be able to perfectly control temperature and alkalinity, while providing just the right lighting and a steady supply of clean, fresh, and fast-moving seawater.

Once we figured that out, we collected our cuttings, a total of 80 four-inch by four-inch samples of sea fans from near the damaged reef, and attached them successfully to an artificial substrate in our tanks made of calcium carbonate and cement, Gaines said.

For two years, the sea fans were nurtured and fed, with the result that new sea fans grew, enough to allow Gaines to harvest 20 cuttings of second-generation coral, each three-inches by three-inches. It is these second-generation sea fans that are now being re-seeded

Contact: Geoff Oldfather
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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