Endangered Staghorn Coral, Acropora cervicornis

 Good morning from Curacao. Did you all have a nice and relaxing weekend?? My Caribbean weekend flew by so fast and I honestly can’t believe it’s Monday already?? Saturday morning I grabbed the dogs and took off to the North coast for a super fun three hour walk along the coast. The dogs love this area because of all the small remote beaches to play on and for me I love all the newly deposited driftwood and the great beach-combing. I had two very dirty, very tired dogs by the time I got home and after shower time they both went to bed for the rest of the day, you gotta love tired dogs!! I then went shopping and stopped by my private sea-glass beach and collected glass shards for an hour, it was turning out to be a great day!! At 4:30 I left the house on my mountain bike for a super fast two hour ride and came home about as dirty as a biker can get due to our dry conditions and riding next to the waters edge. Yesterday, we started the day out with a two hour walk and did a bunch of trail cleaning, then I went into work for the rest of the day.  Here’s my buddy Cival diving above a beautiful colony of critically endangered Staghorn coral that we found near the airport pier in Bonaire. You want to talk about a coral that is hard to find and is disappearing right before our eyes, here it is!! I was shocked when we found these and couldn’t believe we had found so many nice colonies all in one area, talk about a major treat!! These corals are becoming so rare that here in Curacao we hardly see them much any more, they are only found in a few locations. Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching, stony coral with cylindrical branches ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres in length and height. It occurs in back reef and fore reef environments from 0 to 30 m (0 to 98 ft) depth. The upper limit is defined by wave forces, and the lower limit is controlled by suspended sediments and light availability. Fore reef zones at intermediate depths 5–25 m (16–82 ft) were formerly dominated by extensive single-species stands of staghorn coral until the mid-1980s. This coral exhibits the fastest growth of all known western Atlantic fringe corals, with branches increasing in length by 10–20 cm (3.9–7.9 in) per year. This has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals in terms of its contribution to reef growth and fishery habitat. The dominant mode of reproduction for staghorn corals is asexual, with new colonies forming when branches break off a colony and reattach to the substrate. This life history trait allows rapid population recovery from physical disturbances such as storms. However, it makes recovery from disease or bleaching episodes (where entire colonies or even entire stands are killed) very difficult. Sexual reproduction is via broadcast spawning of gametes into the water column once each year in August or September. Individual colonies are both male and female (simultaneous hermaphrodites) and will release millions of gametes. The coral larvae (planula) live in the plankton for several days until finding a suitable area to settle; unfortunately, very few larvae survive to settle and metamorphose into new colonies. The preponderance of asexual reproduction in this species raises the possibility that genetic diversity in the remnant populations may be very low. These uncertainties as to recruitment/recovery potential and genetic status are the bases for increased demographic concerns for this species. Since 1980, populations have collapsed throughout their range from disease outbreaks, with losses compounded locally by hurricanes, increased predation, bleaching, and other factors. This species is also particularly susceptible to damage from sedimentation and sensitive to temperature and salinity variation. Populations have declined by up to 98% throughout the range, and localized extirpations have occurred. Have a wonderful day, I am off to the deep-water lab. Barry MORE: Endangered Staghorn Coral, Acropora cervicornis

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