Hello! Our names are Silia, Donald and Matthew; this summer we received full scholarships to participate in the coral reef ecology and conservation internship at The Bahamas Coral Innovation Hub at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI). The Bahamas Coral Innovation Hub aims to upscale coral reef restoration across the region, while engaging and educating local Bahamians on the importance of coral conservation. The coral restoration projects that we were involved in included larval propagation and coral gardening. The first involves the collection of coral gametes to rear corals until they are big enough to be outplanted onto the reefs, and the second is the use of underwater nurseries to grow corals.
We arrived at the Cape Eleuthera Institute on June 24th and after a quick campus orientation, we jumped right into the action! During our first week, we went diving and observed grooved brain coral spawning. This is where the corals release thousands of little gamete bundles containing sperm and eggs. We collected these bundles so we could conduct external fertilisation in our lab and rear the resulting larvae. We provided substrates to the larvae to settle and recruit, and follow up their development and grow, until they are big enough to be outplanted onto the reef. How lucky were we to experience coral spawning for the first time on our very first dive here!
During our internships we were in charge of maintaining the coral nurseries and measuring the coral fragments. The Coral Innovation Hub is growing two critically endangered coral species: elkhorn and staghorn, which are key species for the survival of coral reefs and their high biodiversity. We did this twice, we remove all the sediments, algae and other marine organisms that were growing on the tree nurseries CEI has at Bamboo. Our measurements gave us information about how fast the corals are growing in Eleuthera.
We also had the chance to learn a reef monitoring method: Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveys (AGRRA), a standardized protocol used across the Caribbean region to assess reef health. We have familiarized ourselves with many local species of coral, fish, algae and other invertebrate species. We have had the opportunity to go snorkeling at reefs in Half Sound where we saw some of the largest elkhorn coral we had ever seen and we even saw elkhorn and staghorn coral hybrids.
This summer we also had the opportunity to collaborate with Island School Outreach to host Coral Camp. For the duration of the week, we worked with 11 high school-aged students from Eleuthera and Nassau and focused on coral reef restoration and art for advocacy. As the summer interns for The Bahamas Coral Innovation Hub, we created an informative and interactive presentation about coral reef science, the most pressing threats to coral reefs and why these reefs are vital to The Bahamas. Additionally, we led snorkels to our coral nursery to show the students the corals that we work with. It was exciting for us to have the opportunity to engage with Bahamian youth and we hope that by educating these young people about coral reefs, we have created life long Bahamian coral reef advocates.
We were so grateful for the opportunity to work with researchers in this field and gained so much experience with coral restoration techniques. We would especially like to thank Cape Eleuthera Institute, Island School Outreach, The Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean, Perry Institute for Marine Science, Reef Rescue Network and Students Rebuild. None of this would have been possible without their support.