Science & Technology

“Researchers Seek Solutions to Safeguard Young Corals from Predatory Fish”

Researchers in South Florida are deploying an innovative solution to protect laboratory-grown coral from predatory fish: biodegradable straws. These efforts are part of a broader initiative to restore coral reefs, often referred to as the “rainforest of the sea.”

Around the globe, scientists have been grappling with the decline of coral reef populations, exacerbated by factors like rising ocean temperatures. In South Florida and the Florida Keys, reef rescue groups have been laboring to preserve existing coral and cultivate new coral in laboratory settings for transplantation into the ocean.

However, ensuring the survival of transplanted coral poses significant challenges, particularly in the face of predatory fish such as parrotfish. These fish can wreak havoc on newly transplanted coral, leading to survival rates of less than 40 percent. With large-scale transplantation projects underway, the financial losses from destroyed coral can be substantial, with individual coral pieces costing over $100.

To address this issue, marine researcher Kyle Pisano and his partner, Kirk Dotson, have developed the Coral Fort—a biodegradable cage made partly from drinking straws. This innovative solution has been shown to boost the survival rate of transplanted coral to over 90 percent. The Coral Fort consists of a limestone disc surrounded by biodegradable straws, providing protection for juvenile coral without impeding sunlight or hindering the fish’s natural behavior.

Unlike traditional barriers made of stainless steel or PVC pipe, the Coral Fort dissolves over time, eliminating the need for maintenance or removal. Made from a biodegradable material derived from canola oil, the Coral Fort leaves behind only water and carbon dioxide as it breaks down in the ocean.

Early prototypes of the Coral Fort used standard drinking straws, which dissolved too quickly to provide adequate protection. However, boba straws—wider and thicker than standard straws—have proven effective, lasting just long enough to safeguard the growing coral before disappearing harmlessly.

Reef Fortify Inc., the company founded by Pisano and Dotson, aims to collaborate with reef restoration projects worldwide. The Coral Fort has already garnered interest from researchers and organizations in South Florida, Hawaii, and beyond.

For coral researchers like Rich Karp at the University of Miami, the Coral Fort represents a game-changing solution. By reducing the need for labor-intensive cage removal, it streamlines underwater operations and enhances scalability—a crucial step in the ongoing effort to protect and restore coral reefs, vital ecosystems that support a quarter of marine life and provide essential protection against storm surges for coastal communities.

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