Coral Gardening in Honduras


Coral gardening is similar to traditional gardening.  It is labor intensive, time consuming, and very rewarding.  At least that is how Honduras resident Rose Gabrouel sees it.  A seasoned land based gardener, Rose has taken her skills underwater and is now gardening animals instead of plants (yes, coral is an animal).  Her motive?  To help save the coral reef, and in the meantime learn a heck of a lot.

Rose tending her coral garden.

Rose tending her coral garden.

Rose was first introduced to the idea of Coral Gardening at a seminar in Utila, given by Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby of Counterpart International.  Dr. Austin is a leading marine biologist in the relatively new field of coral gardening, or in his words, coral reforestation.  In the past, coral aquaculture was mostly done in aquariums.  By researchers and by hobby aquarists for resale.  Dr. Austin brought the same techniques to different locations around the world where the reef is a vital part of the community.  He encourages lay people to take action and become their own scientists.    His first project began in Fiji over 20 years ago and is still going strong.  He teaches local people how to grow coral, care for it, and transplant it,  in hopes they will build up dying infrastructure for sea creatures to live.  His Fiji project is still going strong and there are now over 50 coral gardening outposts in 8 countries  around the world.

Elkhorn and staghorn corals are used as indicators for a healthy reef

Elkhorn and staghorn corals are used as indicators for a healthy reef

The idea is simple, regrow what we have destroyed.  Critics will mention meddling with nature is doing more harm than good.  Some feel only highly trained scientists and biologists should participate.  Dr. Austin and his followers believe otherwise since they are in part repairing what human damage has done in the first place.  The project not only encourages the lay person to take action, but to spread the word, a classic grassroots campaign.  Save the reefs, save the coral.  Provide homes for new creatures and the fish will come, which will in turn provide more food.  A cycle of sustainability in action.

Back to Rose.  She started her own transects in 4 different locations around the island.  Over the past 10 years she has learned a lot. Patience is one lesson.  It takes years for coral to grow substantially.  Two of the locations are doing well.  The other 2 are being difficult. That is the challenge of gardening.  Trying new method until you find what works.  The staghorn coral at Blue Bayou grow well in the shallows.  Once they are transplanted deeper they do not fare as well.  Rose speculates the nutrient levels are different in the different zones.  She tries new methods each time to see what results will be more successful than others.

Rose and Betty transplanting staghorn coral from the Blue Bayou transect.

Rose and Betty transplanting staghorn coral from the Blue Bayou transect.

In her years of practice, Rose has taken several courses and is now able to teach others the practice of Coral Gardening.  She receives volunteers from around the world and has collaborated with Dr. Diego Lirman of RSMAS, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.  See more about Dr. Diego’s work here http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/blog/tag/dr-diego-lirman/.

Rose’s neighbor and close friend, Betty Little, is also a coral gardener with training from Dr. Austin.  The Team regularly dives their gardens, trimming, cleaning, transplanting, and reviving their beloved reef.  This spring, Rose & Betty successfully transplanted 121 starter plants from the nursery onto 11 sites along the Blue Bayou area.

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