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HomeNewsLocal newsCoral Lab West Hosting Fundraiser for STX Reefs to Draw Awareness

Coral Lab West Hosting Fundraiser for STX Reefs to Draw Awareness

The team recognized the importance of community engagement and opened their doors to the public, inviting individuals to learn about their work and become stewards of the reef. (Photos provided by Coral Lab West at Feather Leaf Inn)

The Coral Lab West at Feather Leaf Inn will host a fundraiser for St. Croix reefs on Saturday, May 31. The event will feature delicious food and fascinating discussions about the importance of preserving the reefs on St. Croix.

In the depths of Butler Bay, a dedicated team of marine scientists is embarking on a mission to safeguard one of nature’s most precious wonders: coral reefs. The scientists are working in a small “Pop-Up” Coral Laboratory that they refer to as “the center of culture” because to make coral, you must set up a culture.

Microscopic DLAB polyps fluoresce under UV light in Butler Bay. (Photos provided by Coral Lab West at Feather Leaf Inn)

The lab is located near the Feather Leaf Inn, where the Coral Restoration Team is pioneering a multifaceted approach to unravel the mysteries of these underwater ecosystems and paving the way for effective conservation strategies.

The Butler Bay Coral Restoration Project is funded by the Department of Natural Resources and is currently still the only coral restoration project on the west end of St. Croix. It is a collaboration between Ceiba Strategies, LLC, a program design and project management company, and Thriving Islands, LLC, a marine research and field services company co-founded by Corina Marks and based at the Feather Leaf Inn.

DLAB coral produced through the spawning work of the Butler Bay Coral Restoration Project. (Photos provided by Coral Lab West at Feather Leaf Inn)

The team’s efforts extend far beyond observation; they are cultivating the future of Butler Bay’s coral reefs through innovative coral gardening techniques. One technique uses an old prop left behind from a movie filmed on St. Croix resembling a jungle gym to hang their sea babies on small muffin-sized tins.

The team studies brain and elkhorn corals. They employ both asexual and sexual propagation methods and nurture elkhorn coral fragments to enhance coral biomass. They fertilize brain corals during spawning events and rescue and reattach dislodged corals to their natural habitat.

Chief Scientist Ashlee Lillis, Ph.D., said that the coral they are studying spawns once or twice a year, 10 to 11 days after the full moon, 50 minutes before sunset for one to two minutes. It is that specific.

“In this room we produced like a few million fertilized coral embryos last year and most go back into the sea. That gives them a leg up,” said Marks, referring to the Coral “Pop-Up” Laboratory where she spends most days observing coral.

The team said that despite the historic marine heat wave and bleaching event that started in the summer of 2023, there are one-year-old survivors that are currently found in the nursery. It is also the first time since the spawning calendar was established on St. Croix that the corals did not spawn in the month of May. This could have been related to heat stress, something the team will be paying attention to for the month of June. Additionally, the team is moving into the project’s second phase, which involves out-planting the survivors from the nursery onto the reef.

DLAB coral produced through spawning work set next to brain coral and elkhorn coral of the Butler Bay Coral Restoration Project. (Photos provided by Coral Lab West at Feather Leaf Inn)

Understanding the reef extends beyond visual and genetic assessments. By listening to the subtle symphony of underwater sounds — from the chatter of fish to the hum of passing boats — through passive acoustic monitoring, researchers gain a holistic understanding of reef health. These auditory snapshots offer a window into the bustling life beneath the waves, informing conservation strategies to preserve vital ecosystems.

The team recognized the importance of community engagement and opened their doors to the public, inviting individuals to learn about their work and become stewards of the reef. They have previously hosted other events, such as a Mother’s Day Brunch in May and now a delicious fundraiser dinner. Additionally, they intend to implement measures of a sediment runoff remediation plan.

During the dinner, attendees can expect a Mediterranean-inspired meal while learning from scientist resident Lillis. The proceeds will support crucial conservation efforts in Butler Bay to protect their ecosystem. To secure your spot, click here.

To learn more about Coral Lab West, visit their website and follow their Facebook page and Instagram.

To visit the Sound Ocean Science website that describes the coral incubator project in detail, click here.

The Coral Restoration Team continues to push the boundaries of marine science, and their work serves as hope for the future of Butler Bay’s coral reefs. Through careful research, innovative techniques, and community collaboration, they are forging a path toward a more resilient and sustainable future for these invaluable ecosystems.

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