Volunteers with the Association of Reef Keepers erected two coral reef nurseries last week in the hope that corals propagated there can eventually be transplanted to other sites and help restore some of the Virgin Islands’ existing reefs.

The nurseries, located near Little Thatch Island and near Virgin Gorda, are part of a pilot coral restoration project in which ARK, along with other NGOs and government agencies, will manage the sites, transplant the corals elsewhere, and monitor the progress of the re-established reefs.

Scientists estimate that the Caribbean’s reefs have declined by as much as 80 percent in recent decades.

Though the VI’s reefs may not have suffered quite so much, residents and divers have noticed a dramatic decline of reef health over the years from factors including anchor damage, pollution, runoff and sea temperature increase.

Restoration efforts have already seen success in the United States Virgin Islands.

“The last few years we’ve really been focused on bringing back the integrity of our Caribbean coral reef systems,” said Aaron Hutchins, the Nature Conservancy’s regional director. “We’ve now got maybe 15,000 coral that we’ve put out on reefs throughout the [US] Virgin Islands.”

The VI’s restoration project will follow many of the best practices that have been established by the Nature Conservancy, said ARK President Dr. Shannon Gore.

Each nursery has 10 PVC “trees” designed to support the coral pieces, which were built following a design the USVI nurseries have used with success, Dr. Gore said.

The nurseries will focus on elkhorn and staghorn corals, two varieties known to grow quickly and to do well in the nursery environment.

See the June 18, 2015 edition for full coverage.