Protecting Coral 'Nurseries' as Important as Safeguarding Established Coral Reefs
Published:13 Mar.2024    Source:Arizona State University

Reef conservation efforts typically focus on preserving established coral and protecting them from known stressors such as pollution, overfishing and runoff from coastline populations. However, new research near Miloliʻi in the southwestern part of the island of Hawaii, shows that identifying and protecting marine ecosystems both down-current and up-current of coral reefs, specifically areas where coral larvae are more likely to survive and thrive, is crucial to future coral conservation and restoration efforts -- especially as reefs face increasing pressure from the devastating effects of climate change. The research, completed by Arizona State University scientists and their collaborators, appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The study shows that the larvae more often settle in and inhabit areas with large boulders and uneven surfaces, or "chunky features," said Carlson, who is also a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab. Adult coral will spawn millions of larvae into the water column and those larvae prefer to settle in places with large knolls and boulders.


This discovery is good news: These kinds of seafloor features have been mapped via ASU's Global Airborne Observatory, a highly specialized aircraft that uses several types of remote sensing technologies to track both underwater and land-based habitats. This means that the researchers have the capability to help find and map priority reefs for conservation and restoration.