Reef Conservation

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: AGRRA Monitoring, Coral Gardening, Larval Propagation and Community Campaigns.

AGRRA monitoring

The Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) methodology comprehensively examines the benthic and coral composition and the diversity of fish present on reefs. This tool is used by scientists and technicians around the world working in reef conservation to assess and record reef health over the years and to inform what restoration strategies should be implemented at each site.

Coral Gardening

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.

Larval Propagation

In 2015 and 2016, a pilot program was carried out where the massive spawning event of the coral Acropora cervicornis was recorded for the first time in the Dominican Republic in one of our Bayahibe nurseries 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, within our Coral Reproduction Laboratory and in-situ pools, we scaled up these methods, increasing the volume of coral recruits that we plant 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 planting of recruits in reef rehabilitation areas. These techniques promote the genetic diversity of coral populations and potentially increase their resilience to environmental changes. 

Community Campaigns

As part of the program, several parallel awareness activities are held, among which are the Annual Environmental Agenda, carried out in conjunction with the Hotel Association and La Romana-Bayahibe Tourism Cluster, the Lion Fish Fishing Tournament (6 tournaments in total with an average catch of 500 specimens per event, and a participation of 40 fishermen / divers), which has now become a routine activity for diving centers, and the Coral Manía event, since 2016, integrating the local community to the program and training them in actions for the restoration of coral reefs.

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