Coral Reef Arks: An Innovative Solution for Mitigation of Coral Reef Damage

Jason Baer, United States, Forest Rohwer, San Diego State University, Biology, San Diego, CA, United States and Aaron Conrey Hartmann, Harvard University, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Cambridge, MA, United States
Coral reef ecosystems are in severe decline, driving the need for new, innovative methods to preserve and restore reefs. Primary mitigation strategies focus on the movement of adult corals to new locations, ignoring the vast majority of reef biodiversity required for healthy reef function and possibly explaining limited success in coral translocation projects. Here we describe a new technology for coral reef mitigation which incorporates multiple dimensions of reef functionality and greatly expands upon existing technologies. “Coral Arks” are submerged, geodesic, positively buoyant structures that will provide new habitat for translocated corals with improved physical conditions and a diverse reef community. One-cubic-foot structures called Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) were deployed in all ten global coral reef zones to collect critical ecosystem components such as microscopic and cryptic reef organisms, and over three years, collected representations of nearly all coral reef biodiversity (85%). Adult corals and colonized ARMS structures will be attached to Coral Arks to create movable, largely intact coral reef ecosystems. Computational modeling of Coral Arks structures under expected environmental conditions was used to refine system structure and evaluate potential weaknesses. These results suggest the Arks can provide a stable and favorable biological local environment for the growth of a miniature reef ecosystem. We anticipate that restoration projects using Coral Arks will result in improved survival rates for translocated corals, improved metrics of coral reef function such as associated fish biomass and nearby coral recruitment, and could be used in future efforts to repopulate degraded natural reef systems.