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More Than $910,000 Recommended for Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants Projects

July 18, 2023

Projects will develop novel restoration and intervention methods to promote resilient coral ecosystems in a changing climate.

Orange-brown branching coral mixed in with light tan feather-like coral on a sandy seafloor Restored staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) at Looe Key reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Staghorn coral, along with elkhorn coral and star corals, built Caribbean coral reefs over the last 5,000 years. NOAA Fisheries and partners are using a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and restore these threatened corals. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

NOAA is committed to working with partners to save and restore the world’s coral reefs. To support this mission, we have recommended funding for one new project and have awarded continued funding to four ongoing, multi-year projects under the Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants. The 2023 recommended and awarded funding totals approximately $913,000. It will support projects that enhance coral resilience and improve the long-term success and efficiency of shallow-water coral reef restoration in a changing climate.

A person holding a piece of equipment stands over a tank full of water and square plates that have tiny brown/dark spots (i.e., baby corals). A blue light illuminates the entire room.
Graduate student Daisy Ponce taking measurements in a coral aquarium tank exposed to a blue-shifted light to determine the optimal light at which to enhance the growth of young corals. This work should result in best management practices for lighting in ex-situ nurseries and reduce the time needed to maintain the young corals prior to outplanting. Credit: Nova Southeastern University

Globally, the health of coral reefs is rapidly declining. We have learned much about how to scale up coral restoration efforts in the past several years. However, we need to continue to develop innovative interventions to restore resilient, genetically diverse, and reproductively viable coral populations at a larger scale.

Newly Recommended Project

The University of Alabama will work with Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Delaware to collect algal fluorescence data using a low-cost, non-lethal optical tool. Algal fluorescence correlates to the bleaching response in elkhorn and staghorn coral, which are heavily used in reef restoration projects throughout the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. The data will be used to optimize a model for accurately predicting coral thermal tolerance.

Tan corals fanning out with fish swimming among them
The branches of fast-growing elkhorn coral provide important habitat for fish. Populations of this iconic coral have declined across the Caribbean due to disease, bleaching and storms. Credit: NOAA

Projects Awarded Continued Funding

The University of Miami will continue to assess the feasibility of increasing the genetic diversity of elkhorn corals by cross breeding them with other Caribbean-sourced corals. This work will support restoration of elkhorn coral populations in Florida.

Florida International University will continue to investigate the feasibility of improving restoration and enhancing coral resilience by attempting to make corals withstand increased temperatures.

A white bin holding many tagged coral fragments
Stress hardened staghorn corals ready to be transferred from the laboratory to coral reefs for outplanting. Credit: Florida International University

The University of Southern California, working with the Mote Marine Laboratory, will continue to quantify the thermal tolerance of nursery-reared elkhorn corals and identify genomic signatures associated with key thermal resilience traits.

Nova Southeastern University, working with the Florida Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, will continue to determine the optimal light in which to grow sensitive coral recruits. This work will support efforts to rapidly and effectively upscale production of diverse corals for coral reef restoration.

A microscope image of a multi-armed brown organism with small blotches of green in the background
A close-up of a brain coral polyp reared in Nova Southeastern University’s laboratory nursery. Innovative research on optimizing coral growth in land-based nurseries is part of this grant funding. Credit: Nova Southeastern University

Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants

The Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation competition is in direct response to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study on Interventions to Increase the Resilience of Coral Reefs. The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program funds these innovation grants, a part of NOAA’s effort to restore resilient coral ecosystems, while honoring the life and work of Dr. Ruth Gates. Learn more about the Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants.

Dr. Ruth Gates, in front of a computer, explains the benefits of using an advanced microscope to image corals.
Dr. Ruth Gates explains the benefits of using an advanced microscope to image corals. Credit: NOAA.

Disclaimer: At this point in the selection process, the application approval and obligation of funds for the new award is not final. This application is being “recommended” for funding. This is not authorization to start the project and this is not a guarantee of funding

Last updated by Office of Habitat Conservation on July 28, 2023