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20.6.15

Successful marine conservation by coral biscuit culture

A coral biscuit with new coral tissue
spreading across the cement block.
We have been diving on the ribbon reef coral nursery doing essiential maintenance. TRACC has just moved back to Pom Pom island after a one year absence and while there were no volunteers, the nursery was disturbed by the fish. The staff we retained for the SGP/GEF project were busy building step and bottle reefs on land but with no diving gear they could not do the underwater work.
The corals fragments were planted last year in wet cement to create coral biscuits. The biscuit process takes place on land, wet cement is placed in small plastic pots and finger sized pieces of coral are stuck in the cement. The pot and coral is placed underwater where the cement sets, after 24h the plastic pots are removed and the finished biscuits are placed in the nursery to grow. Unfortunately the biscuits are not heavy enough to stop them being moved by fish. The fish are attracted to the crabs and worms that hide under the biscuits, Rockmover wrasse are theworst culprits. These are really crafty fish, you can see them at work on most of the rubble areas of the island. They appear to work in pairs and take it in turns to pick up a piece of loose coral. One fish lifts the coral and moves it while the other grabs the crab or other tasty morsel which was hidden underneath. Pretty clever fish, they take it in turns so each fish gets a share of the food.
Two very similar coral species competing for space
on the same block.  The new coral tissue has
spread from the original massive coral across the block.
Anyway, the rockmover wrasse and the triggerfish move the coral biscuits in the nursery and they drop blocks on top of other corals and even turn the blocks over. Our job as volunteer divers is to sort out the mess of blocks and turn the coral biscuits back the right way. Fortunately, coral is pretty resilient, provided the coral was not buried in sand, they continue to survive even upside down. The coral doesn't get much light when upside down so growth is really slow. Our job at TRACC is to promote reef growth for marine conservation so we spent several days this week turning all the corals back over so they are the right way up.and can grow quickly.
The growth of the biscuits which remained the right way up, has been amazing and is a great example of sucessful reef regeration. If you look at the pictures you can see the coral tissue spreaing across the blocks, the corals in this post are all massive corals which are supposed to grow really slowly. (i will write another article about the branching corals) The original fragment can be seen in the middle of the block and then the coral tissue has spread across the biscuit and in some cases gone over the edges and down the sides. The coral obviousy uses the free space on the biscuit and spreads as rapidly as possible.
It has been a great experience working on marine conservation with TRACC and I would like to thank my instructor and all my gap year and volunteer buddies. It has been a blast, and i hope to come back to see my corals when they have been moved out of the nursery and onto the ribbon reefs and Step reefs.

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