The Dominican Foundation for Marine Studies began the work of evaluating the health status of local reefs in 2006 in Bayahibe, La Altagracia. It was in 2011 when the reef restoration project started and was strengthened through the reproduction of the coral species Acropora cervicornis. This species, together with A. palmata, suffered a decrease of approximately 97% in the 80s, mainly due to white band disease, in addition to hurricanes, storms, the action of corallivores, thermal stress, the increase in the level sea environment and pollution (Gladfelter, 1982; Porter et al., 1982; Knowlton, 1992; Hughes, 1994; Aronson et al., 2002; Miller et al., 2002). This situation has remained in force and the signs of recovery are not significant for either of the 2 species (Aronson & amp; Precht, 2001; Chamberland et al., 2013), which has led to their inclusion as threatened species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and as critically endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) .
Based on this situation, FUNDEMAR begins a program for the recovery of A. cervicornis through asexual reproduction, with the creation of nurseries for tissue growth and transplant areas. The program begins with funding from USAID-TNC (2011-2013) and the support of the Punta Cana Group Foundation, with whom FUNDEMAR maintains an alliance to date through the Dominican Coastal Restoration Consortium (CDRC).
Once the USAID-TNC project ended, the program has continued to expand and grow day by day thanks to the strategic alliances established with the local community and tourism sector. Practically all the hotels and their respective diving centers in the La Romana-Bayahibe destination support the program with the maintenance of the nurseries in the area, each diving center with its respective nursery.
Thanks to this support, FUNDEMAR has expanded the number of coral gardens it manages, from 2 nurseries to 8, with more than 50 structures. Consequently, the number of coral fragments in nurseries has increased proportionally. Currently there are about 3,000 meters of coral growing in coral nurseries and transplant areas.
The success of the program lies in its long-term maintenance and its integration within the coral reef conservation program maintained by FUNDEMAR, which is made up of several components: Reef Health Monitoring, Coral Gardening, Larval Propagation and Community Integration.
Reef health monitoring
Using photo quadrants and the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) methodology, we comprehensively examine the benthic and coral composition, the diversity and condition of corals, and the community of fish and invertebrates present in the reefs of southeast Dominican Republic. . These assessments provide a record of the state of the reefs over the years and inform restoration strategies for each site.
Since 2011 FUNDEMAR has created coral nurseries to rapidly grow Acropora cervicornis tissue free from competition and predation. As of today, we have 8 coral nurseries that hold over 3 km of tissue altogether. These nurseries have been maintained thanks to the alliance with the private sector, hotels/resorts and local diving centers, which support with their resources the maintenance of their own coral nursery. In addition to having our own tissue transplant areas, each year we coordinate the Coral Mania event, an initiative led by FUNDEMAR, with the support of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the participation of other institutions and partners from the local hotel sector and diving centers, as well as national and international volunteers, for the massive transplantation of A. cervicornis from the FUNDEMAR nurseries to the reef.
In 2015 and 2016, a pilot program was carried out where the massive spawning event of the Acropora cervicornis coral was recorded for the first time in the Dominican Republic in one of our nurseries in Bayahibe, and we successfully implemented assisted fertilization techniques and small-scale larval propagation. . In 2017 and 2018, the registration and documentation of spawning of 7 coral species began in the southeast region of the Dominican Republic. Since 2019, with our Coral Assisted Reproduction Laboratory and in-situ pools of SECORE International , we scale these methods, increasing the volume of coral recruits that we seed on the reef. This process involves the collection of gametes from different coral species during their spawning, assisted fertilization, rearing of embryos, larvae and recruits, and the sowing of recruits in reef rehabilitation areas. Estas técnicas promueven la diversidad genética de las poblaciones de coral y potencialmente incrementan su resiliencia a cambios environmental.