Enhancing survival of ex-situ reared sexual recruits of Acropora palmata for reef rehabilitation

Miriam Schutter*, Remment ter Hofstede, Joost Bloemberg, Jesper Elzinga, Mark van Koningsveld, Ronald Osinga

*Corresponding author for this work

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Acropora palmata is one of the major reef-building coral species in the Caribbean. The species has suffered drastic declines in abundance and sexual recruitment over the past decades. One method for active rehabilitation of A. palmata reefs is by assisting the production of sexual recruits under controlled lab conditions. Within this study, the effect of different aquaculture regimes and culturing periods on the survival rates of these recruits was investigated. In August 2016, coral spawn was collected on a reef nearshore New Providence, Bahamas, cross-fertilized, and reared in mobile laboratory facilities from Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors. Larvae were settled on pre-conditioned aragonite plugs. Sexual recruits were cultured under four different aquaculture conditions: ambient vs. high Total Alkalinity (TA) (∼2.8 mEq L−1 vs. 4.8 mEq L−1) and with vs. without feeding Artemia nauplii. Recruit size was monitored by tracking living tissue area and the number of polyps of a subset of recruits. Plates with recruits were outplanted to a nursery on the reef after 4, 9 and 14 weeks of aquaculture. Survival was determined during the aquaculture phase (at 4, 9 and 14 weeks after settlement), and after outplanting (at 27 and 44 weeks after settlement). During the aquaculture phase, survival was significantly lower in seawater with increased TA compared to ambient seawater conditions. The average number of polyps per recruit was significantly higher in the treatments with feeding. After outplanting to the reef, both survival and recruit size were highest in the feeding treatments. The most successful aquaculture treatment in this study was a combination of increased TA and feeding during 9 weeks of aquaculture, which resulted in a doubling of survival and recruit size at 10 months after settlement compared to ambient conditions. Ambient conditions did not enhance survivorship nor recruit size at 10 months after settlement, as compared to the other aquaculture treatments. Nevertheless, the success of ambient aquaculture conditions exceeded natural conditions, as no natural recruitment of A. palmata was observed in this study. We conclude that feeding during and ex-situ culture period enhances ex-situ growth rates and in situ recruit survival of A. palmata juveniles. No positive effects of the aquaculture treatment with only increased TA were found. Building on these results, recommendations are provided for future reef rehabilitation efforts using ex-situ rearing of sexually reproduced A. palmata recruits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106962
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Aquaculture
  • Coral growth
  • Coral spawning
  • Feeding
  • Total alkalinity


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