High survival rate paves way for a bigger project

250 samples of four coral species were transplanted in Gulf of Kutch off Jamnagar, 71% of which survived.

Almost three-fourths of 250 coral fragments that were transplanted during a pilot experiment within the Gulf of Kutch have survived, according to the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation.

This has paved the way for further efforts wherein more local species as well as fragments from the Lakshadweep Islands would be transplanted in waters off the Marine National Park in Jamnagar one of the four sites in India where corals are found.

Funded by the World Bank, a team of 25 led by a core group of state-run GEER Foundation researchers Dishant Parasariya, Yashpal Anand and Devanshi Joshi had started the experiment on transplantation of four local species in September 2010.

While the Gulf of Kutch is home to 41 hard and 10 soft coral species, much of it had been devastated by decades of human interference in the waters there. At least one species, known as Acropora, is believed to have disappeared in this time, and the plan is to transplant samples of this from Lakshadweep.

"Our team has been quite successful in this first experiment. We hope to transplant more local species and more specimens in this current season, much before the monsoon sets in. We are also working on obtaining samples from Lakshadweep, and hope to receive necessary permissions soon," said Dr Bharat Pathak, director, GEER Foundation.

The team had developed its own protocol for transplantation after identifying suitable samples in Poshitra and Bhaidar (which together had a reef cover of about 41 per cent, quite healthy for the gulf), 250 samples from four different coral species were transplanted to sites in Narara, which had been studied earlier. The species were favia favus, favia speciosa, porites lutea and porites compressa.

The researchers did this by tying the samples to concrete blocks using local cotton-silk threads known as heerkadagha, and attaching these blocks to seven steel frames. These frames were then placed on reef edges during the low tide. Of the 250 samples, 15 were large enough to be left without the supporting contraptions.

After months of monitoring and occasionally cleaning the samples from accumulating algae, the team told the funding agency in a recent interim report that 71 per cent of the samples survived and in fact grew quite well, especially after monsoon.

The team noted that 70 samples died during and soon after the rainy season, mainly because the frames and concrete blocks were destroyed by strong waves. As many as 65 showed signs of bleaching, caused by higher-than-normal acidity in the water, but only three eventually died.

"Based on these mortality findings, we will improve the design of these frames to better withstand strong currents," said Dr Pathak, adding the next phase will cover more species, most likely twice or thrice the number of samples. The experiments' target area is coral regeneration in 50 sq m.

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