Our Perspectives


Acropora Coral Rescue

Acropora Coral Rescue

by | Jan 3, 2020 | Taking Action

If you have been in the water around corals in Bocas, you have probably seen and would recognize some small outcroppings of Elkhorn and Staghorn corals (two species in the Acropora family).

These corals are the reef’s building blocks, creating essential habitat used by fish as nurseries, shelter, resting grounds and feeding areas. The acroporids are among the most important, diverse, and abundant corals, with over 150 different species worldwide.

Their fast growth and successful reproductive strategies have allowed them to dominate both intertidal and subtidal habitats, forming fields of branches, tables, bushes, tall columns, stout fingers, and crusts that once covered 50-90% of the reef substrate. They are also the most sensitive and vulnerable to temperature changes, predators, storm damage, disease and bleaching.

Over the last five years, we’ve watched entire healthy colonies of Acropora species (Elkhorn and Staghorn corals) completely collapse.

With more coastal developments on the horizon and continued collapse anticipated, it is anticipated that Bocas Del Toro will lose these important species entirely in the next 2-3 years.


An example of an Elkhorn colony over the last 4 years. The first photo is from 2016 and shows a healthy, flourishing coral branch. The same coral in the 2nd photo is struggling, but still alive in 2017. The third photo is from 2019.

Rescuing these coral species and ensuring their survival has become an essential priority, as these two Acropora corals that were once prevalent throughout most of the archipelago are the primary stabilizer of reef systems with their relatively fast growth, ideal fish habitat, and reef-building abilities.

How We Are Working To Save These Corals

We are on a mission to find as many healthy colonies as we can, recover clones that will thrive and seed future colony generations, and to expand our nursery for the additional space needed to protect them.

We are collecting and cloning specimens from several areas throughout the islands and make “mother” trees from each individual colony. After they have grown to a suitable size, we take nursery clones from each mother and plant them together in a recovery area where they share positive genetic traits through natural breeding. This helps us grow corals that are stronger,  more resistant to climate change, and adaptable to the ongoing changes in our archipelago.

However, the biggest obstacle is that, to our knowledge, after four years of serious searching, we only know of a few remaining wild colonies of each of these Acropora Elkhorn and Staghorn corals. None of them are close enough to any of the other locations to be able to effectively cross-breed and strengthen their gene pool. Additionally, some of these sites contain only one or two living colonies and none have colony populations over two dozen.

Here’s how you can help…

1. Help us find more Acropora colonies

Are you local to Bocas Del Toro? You can help us in identifying additional colonies around the archipelago that we may have missed. We need to find as many healthy sites as we can to collect clones that can help provide the genetic diversity we will need to restore these corals over the coming years.

Know a spot that needs protection?  Let us know where to find it.


An example of healthy Elkhorn                                 A healthy Staghorn example

We are in a race against time to establish and preserve enough nursery stock to be able to save these unique and critically needed corals. We are expanding our nursery as much and as fast as we can in order to win this race.

2. Help expand our nursery

At least fifty nursery trees need to be constructed, placed and populated as quickly as possible in order to feel any sense of security for the future of these coral.

Each nursery tree costs $130 in materials, and doesn’t include labor costs. A nursery coral tree holds 100 coral clones and those clones could be the only hope for a future of these important species.

With 50 trees in place, we could have 5,000 coral clones in our nursery protected and breeding to protect the future of these species and reef colonies in the archipelago.

Imagine what your donation could accomplish!

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