Dredging threatens exceptional coral reefs in front of Panama Canal

An exceptionally healthy coral reef directly in front of the Panama Canal breakwater is threatened by dredging for the new Isla Margarita Port Terminal. Unless strict measures are taken to prevent mud from getting out of the Eastern Channel onto the adjacent coral reef, Panamanians stand to lose this habitat that is part of their national heritage.

Environmental impact assessments made for the port development only considered dead previously dredged areas inside the breakwater, and completely ignored the healthy coral reefs less than a hundred meters away, connected by an open channel to the dredging and landfill sites.

A survey by the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) and the Galeta Marine Laboratory of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI), at the request of Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM), found a healthy coral reef with high living coral cover right in front of Isla Margarita and the eastern end of the Panama Canal breakwater. These reefs are not mentioned anywhere in the port’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): the EIA mentions only dead habitat in the area, which would not be affected from dredging nearby. The living coral reefs are only about 100 meters away from the Port dredge and filling operations.

This reef is close to the Isla Galeta Protected Area, and strong measures are needed to protect the highly vulnerable corals from suspended sediments.

This report, and the photos and video attached to it, describes the health status of this extraordinary reef (figures below) and the measures needed to monitor and protect it.

Proposed dredging plans at Isla Margarita, Panama Canal
Port plans. (Image courtesy of the EIA.) Diagonal striped area will become part of the port facility. Seafloor habitat to be filled in and turned into land is shown in stipple.
Proposed port lies right next to healthy coral reef in front of Isla Margarita, just outside the Panama Canal entrance.
The port lies right next to healthy coral reef in front of Isla Margarita. The photos and video in this report were all taken inside the coral reef area shown in blue, just across the breakwater from the area that will filled in for the expanded port.

The full report, with photographic and video documentation can be seen below.

Isla Margarita, Panama image compilation

Isla Margarita, Panama GCRA survey video

After the survey of Isla Margarita reef was done, the project proponents announced without warning that they had made a mistake: they needed 16 times more dredging material to complete the project than they had projected, and most of the required sand for the filling operations would be dredged in Nombre de Dios. Unfortunately, Nombre de Dios represents the center of the best shallow fringing coral reef flats in the entire Caribbean and is a site of global biodiversity importance.

Nombre de Dios Bay. The shallow reef flat of this bay is the best developed in the entire Caribbean.
Port plans. (Image courtesy of the EIA.) Diagonal striped area will become part of the port facility. Seafloor habitat to be filled in and turned into land is shown in stipple.


Biorock electric coral reefs survive the most severe hurricanes with little or no damage

Two new Global Coral Reef Alliance videos answer the question many people have: what happens in a hurricane? Here we show that Biorock reefs hit by the eye of three of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes, Hanna, Ike, and Irma, suffered almost no physical damage and built up sand around them during the event.

In contrast, solid concrete objects nearby caused so much scour and erosion around and under them that they sank into the sand. Solid breakwaters cause reflection of waves at the solid surface, concentrating all the wave energy in one plane, which causes sand to wash away in front of the structure, then underneath, until it is undermined and collapses. This is the inevitable fate of any vertical seawall, so they need constant and costly repair and replacement. After Hurricane Andrew every single shipwreck in South Florida was torn apart or moved great distances due to the strong surface drag. Not one remained intact.

Biorock electric coral reefs can be any size or shape. For growing corals, we make open frameworks, so the corals can benefit from the water flow through the structure, just as they do in coral reef. As a result of their low cross section to waves, they dissipate energy by surface friction as waves pass through them, refracting and diffracting waves rather than reflecting them. Their low drag coefficient means that they survive waves that would move or rip apart a solid object of the same size.

Here we show what happened to Biorock reefs after the most severe hurricanes ever to hit Saint Barthelemy and Grand Turk. Incredibly, there was little or no physical damage to the structures or to the corals, even though these structures were not welded, simply wired together by hand, and they were not physically attached to the bottom, simply sitting on the bottom under their own weight, attaching themselves to hard bottoms and cementing sand around their bases through growth of limestone rock over their surfaces.

Saint Barthelemy:

Grand Turk:

These astonishing results follow our previous video showing the record recovery of severely eroded beaches behind Biorock reefs:

Scientific papers documenting the Grand Turk results are at: Effect of severe hurricanes on Biorock Coral Reef Restoration Projects in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

and the rapid restoration of the beach at: Biorock Electric Reefs Grow Back Severely Eroded Beaches in Months

It is important to realize that neither rocks nor structures exposed at low tide shown in this video are an essential part of the method. Almost all of Biorock structures are completely submerged and have no rocks. At Pulau Gangga this design was used to protect the beach from storms at high tide, and effectiveness was more important than aesthetics to the Resort, so they opted not to have what most people want: an invisible watchman that you can’t see at low tide sunset!

In addition, Biorock electric reefs greatly increase the settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stress of all marine organisms, with only a single known exception: predatory sharks avoid electric fields that confuse them, protecting people and sharks from each other (Uchoa, O’Connell, & Goreau, 2017). In 2016 there was nearly complete survival of Biorock corals during severe high-temperature events that bleached and killed more than 95% of corals on nearby reefs.

Our results show that Biorock electric reefs are the most cost-effective method for saving corals from global warming, restoring reef communities (whether corals, oysters, or mussels), and protecting coastlines from erosion and global sea level rise.

Global warming is why I have to shovel so much snow today!

Wind speeds and climate extremes are driven by atmosphere temperature and pressure differences, which are increasing due to global warming, because temperature differences between land and sea get greater with global warming.

Here is the latest global sea surface temperature and air temperature anomaly maps. The Arctic is exceptionally warm, and most of the North Atlantic is 2 degrees C or more above average, causing much more evaporation over the ocean that turns into snow in a northeaster, and dumps it on my sidewalk.

Also notice the hot water around Australia. The Great Barrier Reef will bleach for the third year in a row if this hot water does not go away very soon. The biggest patch of cool water, in the eastern equatorial Pacific, is the remains of a La Niña that failed to develop and is fast dissipating.



Planetary Pact with Mother Earth still overdue in 2018

Comments on the following article: Regenerating soil and biomass carbon can reverse global climate change posted on the Soil Carbon Alliance website.


Coral reefs are already the first victims, we exceeded the global bleaching temperature tipping point threshold in the 1980s, there is now very little time left to save them. 
— Tom Goreau
Stephen Jay Gould (my advisor at Harvard), The Golden Rule, 1993 , phrases in brackets inserted for clarity.
“By what argument could we [humanity], arising just a geological microsecond ago, become responsible for the affairs of a world 4.5 billion years old, teeming with life that has been evolving and diversifying……Nature does not exist for us, had no idea we were coming, and doesn’t give a damn about us…..
We can surely destroy ourselves, and take many other species with us…..On geological scales our planet will take good care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance [but it will take several million years]……
If we all treated others as we wish to be treated ourselves, then decency and stability would have to prevail. I suggest we execute such a pact with our planet. 
She holds all the cards, and has immense power over us – so such a compact, which we desperately need but she does not at her timescale, would be a blessing for us and an indulgence for her. 
We had better sign the papers while she is still willing to make a deal. If we treat her nicely she will keep us going for a while. If we scratch her, she will bleed, kick us out, bandage up, and go about her business at her own scale…..
The Earth is kinder than human agents in “the art of the deal”. She will uphold her end; we must now go and do likewise.”

Governments can’t say they weren’t warned that coral reefs can take no further warming!

Not 2 degrees, not 1.5 degrees, not even 1 degree!
That’s why the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where I will speak tomorrow about large-scale regeneration of marine ecosystems to reverse global climate change, is a death sentence for coral reefs as it now stands, because governments have chosen to sacrifice coral reefs, despite the scientific evidence that they are the most climatically vulnerable ecosystem!
The documents below show that the UNFCCC was fatally flawed from its conception, and needs to be strengthened if it is not to prevent global warming-caused extinction of coral reefs and flood low lands where billions of people now live.

NEW YORK. MAY 7 1992


FROM: Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, President, GCRA

1. IPCC projections for future climate change are based on assumed sensitivities of temperature and sea level to carbon dioxide increase that are 1O times less, and 1250 times less respectively, than have actually taken place in the past. The last time global temperatures were 1-2 degrees C above today’s values, sea level was 5-8 meters higher, compared to the 0.1 to 0.3 meters projected by IPCC. These observed changes imply that current projections may seriously underestimate potential long-term rises in sea level and temperature.

2. Coral reefs around the world are bleaching from heat shock stress and corals are increasingly dying as episodes increase in frequency and intensity. Bleaching took place after “hot spots”, regions of ocean temperature 1 degree C above normal, hit reef areas during the hottest months. Mass bleaching was unknown before the 1980s. Reefs which have escaped hot spots by luck are certain to be damaged if they continue. Major components of tropical marine biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, and shore protection are at serious risk from global warming.

3. Halting global warming requires stabilization of C02 concentrations in the atmosphere, not just stabilizing emissions. This requires both reduced supply of C02 to the atmosphere from fossil fuels and increased removal of C02 by protecting remaining forests and reforesting currently degraded areas. Simultaneous supply and demand-side measures are needed. Rapid global increase in biomass is essential because this is the only practical measure which can significantly reduce C02 concentrations within decades. Even drastic emissions reductions require over a century to have major impacts on C02 levels. Reforestation and increased energy efficiency together can affordably stabilize C02, providing an interim measure until non C02-producing energy sources replace fossil fuels.

4. Forest protection is not a sectoral issue. Boreal forests are the most efficient carbon sinks because they hold on to carbon for the longest in wood and soil. Tropical forests are inefficient, they hold on to carbon for a short time before returning it to the atmosphere. However, increased tropical forest cover is also critical because it is the most important ecosystem for reducing the atmospheric lifetime of C02 and the total heat each additional molecule adds to the atmosphere. Global warming will make all forests less efficient carbon sinks. Oceans are an extremely inefficient sink, unless they are dangerously polluted.

5. The Convention at present Is Inadequate to protect coral reefs from climate change. It requires stronger commitments to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Global, long-term, wholistic thinking Is needed on all sides now before it is too late to save and restore reefs and forests.


Panamanian bleaching refuge reefs discovered with huge ancient corals

Panamanian Caribbean coral reef temperatures have been very hot in 2017 and have hovered near the bleaching temperature threshold almost all year.

Bleaching began around March, unusually early, but by June waters had cooled down below the threshold, and corals went into a bleaching recovery phase at that time.

Water temperatures rose again above bleaching thresholds later in the year, leading to predictions of a second bleaching event in a single year.

Fortunately a second bleaching event did not happen despite high temperatures, for a very good reason! It has been a very wet rainy season, with heavy rains almost every day, and the sky is grey with dense clouds, or black with thunderheads, with little or no blue sky, so there has been much less sunshine and light stress late in the rainy season compared to in earlier in the season.

In the 1980s my bleaching experiments with Jamaican corals at combinations of different temperature and light levels showed clearly that:

1) Bleaching took place only above a temperature threshold, showing temperature to be the prime trigger for bleaching.

2) Above that temperature, the rate of bleaching was proportional to the light level, indicating that high light level was a secondary factor for bleaching.

Peter Glynn independently did similar experiments in Okinawa, and found the same.

These experiments explained the clear effects of shading of corals on bleaching responses that we studied in the field in the first Caribbean-wide high temperature bleaching event in 1987, why a second bleaching event did not happen in Panama this year, and why the wettest tropics will be a major refuge for corals against global climate change, but only in areas free of direct human impacts such as deforestation, sewage, and agricultural chemicals.

In Jamaica, where high temperature stress was much less than Panama this year, about half the corals were bleached two weeks ago, much more than in Panama. Jamaica has much higher light than Panama, where the skies are grey through most of the rainy season. Belize, which suffered temperature stress between that of Panama and Jamaica this year, but whose climate is more similar to Jamaica, is predicted to have had more severe bleaching in 2017 than either Jamaica or Panama, due to its combination of thermal and light stress. There have been no reports of bleaching from Belize yet. It will be interesting to see if there was mortality there.

The protective effect of high cloudiness in the warmest time of year is uniquely related to the extreme vertical circulation of the equatorial atmosphere right up to the tropopause. When one flies over Panama or Indonesia in the rainy season there is no blue sky to be seen, even at 10 Kilometers height (30,0000 feet). These refuges are limited to equatorial reefs, and Panama, Colombia, and Indonesia are likely to be the most important. As global warming continues, these corals may have a unique chance of survival due to protection by local weather patterns.

It must be emphasized that these are NOT refuges because the corals are more “resilient”, they are refuges because they are lucky to suffer much less stress from high light, on top of high temperature. Many Australian and American coral “scientists” claim any location where corals survive have “resilient” corals, but they have simply been lucky to escape additional stresses for purely local reasons!

In Panama we have recently found two reef refuges with exceptionally high live coral cover, diversity, and health.

1) We have surveyed a reef with 30-40% live coral cover in shallow water right in front of the eastern end of the Panama Canal breakwater. This reef is not only at the high end for coral cover in the Caribbean today, despite a century and a half of severe disturbance from dredging and pollution, it now has higher live coral cover than when it was last studied in the 1980s, an exceptional circumstance! However it is imminently threatened by dredging for a huge new port that will be constructed only a few hundred meters from the reef! GCRA and our Panamanian colleagues will soon issue a report with photos and video of this reef, and recommendations for protecting it.

2) We have found a truly exceptional reef of global significance in the Guna Yala Indigenous Territories with even higher live coral cover. This reef is remote from human habitation, is free of weedy algae caused by high nutrients (and has no Diadema). The shallow reef is covered with huge intact colonies of elkhorn and staghorn corals of sizes and abundance that I have not seen in the Caribbean since the 1970s. They are growing on top of a layer of even larger intact dead corals of the same species and are clearly regenerating because the reef is free of algae and sediment. Also astonishing is the size, age, and ecomorphotype (phenotype) diversity of coral species, including vast numbers of huge ancient coral heads from 1 to 6 meters tall, and up to 8 meters across. Nevertheless the reef is being affected by black band, yellow band, white band, dark spot, and white plague diseases. These diseases have been declining across the Caribbean over the last two decades, as the most susceptible corals die, or as the disease becomes less virulent. The virulence of diseases at this site suggests that the pathogens have only recently reached the area, since most of the corals are healthy intact with only relatively small areas affected so far.

In the 1950s, Thomas F. Goreau, in a paper on gigantism in reef corals, emphasized the importance of exceptional and rare reef habitats where all the corals were huge and healthy. Jamaica used to have about half a dozen such locations, only one now survives in degraded form. This newly discovered remote reef in the Guna Indigenous territories may be one of very few places left in the Caribbean like this, and urgently needs to be protected. GCRA is preparing a photographic report on this extraordinary reef, and will train Guna marine resource managers to monitor and assess such remarkable sites.

Although Guna Yala has long been regarded as having some of the finest coral reefs in the Caribbean, there has been essentially no work on the best reefs. Peter Glynn’s magnificent work has focused on the completely different Panamanian Pacific reefs. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution had a marine lab for many years in westernmost Guna Yala. This was located in the most densely populated area of the Indigenous Territory, where reefs have been in poor condition since the 1980s due to severe algae overgrowth of the corals caused by raw sewage. The Gunas threw the Smithsonian out because American coral researchers removed big corals without permission and then arrogantly treated the Gunas as ignorant natives who should mind their own business. As a result, the good reefs in Guna Yala have never been studied, and diving with tanks is strictly banned by the Gunas. There is therefore a crucial need to establish Guna coral reef monitoring, restoration, and protection efforts for these refuge reefs of global importance. There have also been Biorock coral reef restoration projects in Guna Yala for 21 years, which are doing well, and will soon be expanded.

As the current La Niña sets in, Indonesia and Australia are expected, from the well known El Niño Southern Oscillation teleconnections, to leave the “cold” phase they have been in during the long extended El Niño that is just over, and to enter the “warm” phase this southern summer. Already these areas are unusually warm, and there is therefore a strong likelihood of even more severe bleaching in 2018 than in the last three years. It will be very important to identify the major coral refuges in Indonesia that are protected, like Panama, by high clouds in the warm season.

The death of “resilience”: Hurricane recovery of coral reefs destroyed by global warming, pollution, and pathogens

The remaining coral reefs of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Tortola and the British Virgin Islands, Grand Turk, Cuba, Dominica, and Puerto Rico have all been devastated in recent weeks by direct hits from the eye of the strongest hurricanes on record. Having dived extensively around all of these islands except for Anguilla, none of these areas had remaining shallow reefs in good condition before the event. The question now is how quickly they will recover?

The first study of hurricane impacts on coral reefs was after Hurricane Charlie, which devastated Jamaica in 1951, and tore the roof off of our home. After the hurricane, my father dived in the reefs and found large areas of shallow elkhorn and staghorn coral smashed to rubble, and large old coral heads cracked and toppled (Goreau, 1956). By the mid 1950s, about half of the reef had grown back (see photo below), and by the late 1950s there were almost no traces of the damage visible because vigorous coral settlement and growth rapidly colonized the damaged areas.

That is why we always said that healthy coral reefs could recover from near-total hurricane devastation in a decade or so (Goreau, Goreau, & Goreau, 1979). But Jamaican coral reefs never recovered from Hurricane Allen (1979), Gilbert (1989), and Ivan (2004) because by then the coral reef ecosystem’s intrinsic internal biological resilience had already been destroyed by stresses exceeding their capacity to adapt.

Bob Trench, Belize’s most famous scientist and the world’s top expert on coral symbiosis and I have recently looked at the oldest underwater photographs of Belize coral reefs taken in 1968, 7 years after the worst hurricane in Belize history, Hurricane Hattie, had devastated Belizean coral reefs and mangroves (Stoddart, 1963). These include the reefs that Bob grew up on fishing before Hurricane Hattie. The elkhorn and staghorn zones had already largely recovered at that point. So in the 1960s, Belize reefs, like Jamaican reefs in the 1950s, were still able to recover from devastating physical damage in a decade.

Recovery on this scale is now completely impossible because global warming, nutrient pollution, and diseases have degraded or destroyed the capacity of the most critical ecosystem framework-building coral species to survive or recover from. Dead areas destroyed by hurricanes now stay dead, are overgrown by weedy algae indicating sewage pollution, or are colonized by communities of weedy coral species, which most people confuse with real coral reefs because they have never seen one.

The old massive coral reef walls that surrounded most Caribbean islands when I was a boy still remain as a dead reef in only a few lucky spots where they have not yet been torn apart by bio-erosion and wave forces, but they have completely vanished in most places, where there is no trace remaining of the magnificent reefs that once stood there.

Coral reefs were resilient and would spring back in devastated areas on decadal scales in the old days only because there was no human-caused climate change, pollution, and new diseases. That was because devastation by storms or dredging were brief in time and space, and damaged areas grew right back from the healthy reef all around the damaged areas. Now there is no healthy surrounding reef, and no spatial or temporal refuges left from high temperatures, pollutants, and pathogens that are accelerating everywhere.

It is time that the bogus fraud of “coral reef resilience” be buried forever. This vile lie, based on invincible ignorance of fundamental coral biology, has been pimped for the last 30 years by governments and Big International NGOs (BINGOs) in order to prevent efforts to eliminate the real root causes of coral reef destruction, and to prevent serious efforts to restore them, thereby deliberately sentencing coral reefs to death from preventable causes.

goreau, biorock, Jamaica, 1950, coral reef
Image: TF. Goreau 1950’s

Coral bleaching is now starting over a large part of the Caribbean

Here in Jamaica it is in the earliest and mildest phases, with only the most sensitive colonies of the three most sensitive species showing paling. Temperatures in Jamaica were only briefly above the HotSpot levels, and have cooled since, so bleaching is not likely to be noticeable to anyone else unless the waters warm up again in the next few weeks.

There has been no noticeable change in coral bleaching thresholds for 30 years, and therefore no signs of adaptation, but we are steadily losing the most vulnerable species so there is less to bleach.

In Panama, which lies in the core of the Goreau-Hayes Coral Bleaching HotSpot (below) bleaching will be much more noticeable. Reefs in the Panamanian Caribbean bleached earlier this year when the HotSpot first developed, recovered to some degree following mild cooling in mid year, and are now bleaching yet again for a second time this year. Impacts could be severe as they bleached last year and the year before as well, though not severely enough to cause much mortality.

Curaçao, Bonaire, Belize, Honduras, Colombia, and many other parts of the Caribbean are likely to bleach in the next few weeks unless there is dramatic cooling.

As usual, there have been no reports of bleaching from the areas all across the Pacific that were most devastated by high temperatures this year.

Severe bleaching is certain to be ongoing in the Ryukyus, the Marianas, Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap, but dive shops have simply stopped reporting bleaching…………

Or perhaps it is because NOAA declared that “the bleaching event is now over”?

coral bleaching, Caribbean, 2017, Biorock, Goreau, Hayes, HotSpot,  method coral bleaching, Caribbean, 2017, Biorock, Goreau, Hayes, HotSpot, method

Shark bites deterred by Biorock Electric Coral Reef Projects

Coral reefs are the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems and provide vital ecosystem services. Global warming, deteriorating water quality, overharvesting, and other threats are accelerating coral reef decline. An innovative coral reef restoration method, invented by Prof. Wolf Hilbertz and Dr. Tom Goreau, Biorock® technology, uses electricity to make corals to grow faster and healthier, and survive lethal bleaching temperatures.

A study entitled “The effects of Biorock-associated electric fields on the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi)and the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)” just published in ANIMAL BIOLOGY by Marcella Uchoa, Craig O’Connell and Tom Goreau investigated how electric fields associated with Biorock reefs influence behavior of sharks and bony fishes. It is well known that sharks can feel extremely weak electrical fields through specialized electroreceptors called ampullae of Lorenzini.

They studied behavioral responses of two shark species, the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) and the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) and several bony fish species towards weak electric fields in Bimini, Bahamas. Statistical analyses of 90 trials found both shark species fed the least, and avoided bait food they knew was there, when the electric field was turned on. Sharks approached the bait yet completely missed and exhibited signs of disorientation. Since detection of electric fields by sharks is important in the final phases of prey capture, Biorock generated electric fields clearly confused them. In contrast, bony fish feeding behavior was not affected by the electrical field.

This study demonstrates a need for future studies with more species of shark and fish species around Biorock electrical reef restoration projects, since deterrence of sharks, as top predators, may impact ecosystem balance”, said Marcella Uchoa, a Brazilian student who did the study for her Masters Degree in the RIMER Erasmus Mundi Marine Science Program at the University of the Basque Country, Spain. “Since this initial study demonstrated that Biorock reefs elicit close-range shark deterrent responses, further testing is warranted to assess the ability for these systems to serve as either a personalized shark deterrent or a shoreline bather protection system” said Craig O’Connell, head of the O’Seas Conservation Foundation, which specializes in shark behavior and conservation. Tom Goreau, President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance added that “Biorock electric reefs could benefit humans and sharks as well as corals and fishes. The electrical fields inhibit attacks in the vicinity of restoration projects, but would not affect sharks further away, so it helps preserve coral reefs, fishes, humans, and sharks at the same time, while avoiding the damage and bycatch from nets, baited hooks on lines, and poisons”.

Biorock, shark, bite, Bimini, Goreau, Hilbertz
Marcella Uchoa preparing fish food for sharks in Bimini (photograph by Craig O’Connell)

For more information please contact: info (think) globalcoral.org

Elkhorn Reef Restoration: Westender, Jamaica after 1 month

June 29 2017

Thomas J. F. Goreau

In the 1950s Jamaica was surrounded by some of the finest coral reefs in the Caribbean, which were the first in the world to be studied by diving (Goreau & Goreau, 1959). These were almost all destroyed by eutrophication caused by untreated sewage, hurricanes, and dredging (Goreau, 1992) and have continued to deteriorate, causing a bottom up collapse of the fisheries due to lack of shelter and food, quite independently of top-down collapse caused by overharvesting.

Marine protected areas where the corals are dead and dying will not restore fisheries, so active restoration of the habitat to provide the fish with shelter and food is needed for the fish populations to recover.

New technologies to rapidly restore coral reefs were invented in Jamaica in 1987, but have been abandoned in Jamaica for 25 years due to lack of support and funding from both Jamaican and foreign institutions.

The Biorock electric reef restoration project at Westender Inn, Westmoreland, is the first new project using locally-invented technology in Jamaica for 25 years:

Biorock Coral Restoration comes back to Jamaica after 25 years

This tiny pilot project aims to show how community-managed groups can restore their coral reef and fisheries around Jamaica.

The project was set up in May, 2017. This report shows the first photographs of the new coral growth, taken in June 2017, after one month.

This area used to be a solid forest of elhorn coral reaching the surface, that you could not swim over (see photograph below of a typical Jamaican reef around 60 years ago). That forest of coral was smashed into dead rubble by hurricanes and has never recovered. While a few small corals have managed to settle, the reef has lost its structure, its biodiversity, and its ability to provide fish with shelter and food. Worse, the limestone bedrock below is being systematically excavated and eroded by dense populations of sea urchins. The very small Westender pilot project aims to turn a collapsed vanishing reef back into a lush growing one, full of fish.

Since there are so few elkhorn corals left, and since we use only naturally broken fragments found on the bottom, most of which are in poor condition, we could only find a handful of them to transplant onto the new Biorock reef. Most of these pieces were very small, but all are growing well.

The photos below show that all have recovered from the physical damage they had previously suffered and all are growing rapidly. Already new branches are forming, and the small white spots are new coral polyps showing extremely rapid coral growth. The corals can be seen to be already overgrowing and attaching themselves to the structure.

The small corals that have previously settled on the dead reef rock will grow faster, and so will the “good” algae, the calcareous branching algae that are the source of the beach sand. Greatly increased settlement of new corals will also become obvious in the coming year.

In May the steel framework attached over the dead reef rock was red and rusting. In June it has been completely covered by growing limestone rock. The spacing of the mesh, 6 inches or 15 centimeters, provides a scale. Fish immediately began to move in to the project site.

Photographs by Dan Brewer, except for the first, which was taken around 60 years ago by the late Prof. Thomas F. Goreau, founder of Jamaican coral reef science.