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Students Find Success with Coral Fragments

Fifteen Tabor students and three faculty members traveled down to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, staying at the Gerace Research Centre, intending to design and build two coral fragment trees, find Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral populations, and to anchor the trees in viable conditions to grow out fragments of each species. Some believed this would be a vacation, some believed it would be an adventure, what it really became in the end was more like an odyssey.
There are some parameters of field research which can be controlled. We had the appropriate material to build the fragment trees, we had a dive boat scheduled, and we were staying at a research facility that supports all sorts of research on the island. There are then the parameters of field study that cannot be controlled. We were not sure where to find the Elkhorn and Staghorn communities, or whether there were communities of those species around the island at all. We also experienced weather, waves, and water clarity that were ill fit for research and had to assign certain days to the tree design and exploration.
Fortunately, our research team consisted of fifteen amazing young scientists who never quit. Jay Cassista, Director of Marine Science, said, “With this being our first time to Gerace, we thought we would do some exploration of the bays and map the area as we searched for the Elkhorn coral we were seeking. Happily, we found healthy coral right away and so were able to pivot to the real outcome we hoped for, creating some fragment trees to grow healthy coral for outcropping next year.”
The first group, consisting of seven students, located several Elkhorn colonies and were fortunate to find a piece of the coral that had fallen to the ocean floor that was still alive and apparently healthy. This piece would have most likely expired, so using it was a chance at reviving the specimen. This large piece of Elkhorn was broken into smaller pieces and on a calm, beautiful morning, the pieces were attached to a student completed fragment tree at a site chosen by the team. There was a great sense of accomplishment that afternoon from all.
The second group of eight students had early success in the week, completing the fragment tree in just two days and actually locating Staghorn Coral on a dive to the northern section of the island. Christian Vander Mel ’19 was so excited to find the scarce coral that he screamed through his snorkel causing Mr. Cassista to think a large shark was approaching. The second group persevered through difficult weather to complete the task of setting the second fragment tree loaded with recovered Staghorn Coral pieces.
With some luck, we will return next year to find the pieces healthy and large enough to outcrop to a suitable location. Cassista said, "I am so proud to have been on this field research endeavor with these amazing young people. It was an opportunity to get to know them on a whole new wonderful level. They met all sorts of adversity and worked hard to overcome all of the obstacles they met."

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