Coral propogation refers to asexual and sexual propogation. The first includes the fragmenting of coral and replanting, the second refers to restabilizing and transplanting. Restabilizing means the attaching of adult coral colony to the sea floor. Transplanting means moving an adult colony for more than one meter either horizontally or vertically. Planting means attaching a propagated fragment to hard substrate.

Coral Propagation/rescue Ethics[edit | edit source]

Before discussing the steps necessary for coral fragmentation and propagation, it is necessary to discuss the ethics involved in this work. Just as medical doctors take an oath to ‘First, do no harm’, and boy scouts leave any location ‘as clean or cleaner’ than it was when they arrived, we feel that the first rule of grassroots rehabilitation efforts is to ensure that no harm comes to an ecosystems by the methods being used to protect it. The Reef Ball Foundation has therefore developed its ethics and standards with the goal of protect enthusiastic well intentioned efforts from doing any harm to the ecosystems they are working so hard to protect. At first, these ethics may seem too stringent, particularly for people who have worked in coral propagation as part of scientific research, where due the small size and exploratory nature of the research, many of these ethical concerns become more flexible because the benefits of the research are great, and the impacts are minimal. In contrast, coral rehabilitation projects can be quite large, involving the planting tens of thousands of coral fragments and therefore any mistakes can have potentially large consequences. Whatever your perspective, please understand that the ethics presented here are meant to serves as guidelines only, and are designed to guide success and not to limit efforts.

Reef Ball Foundation Ethics[edit | edit source]

These ethics apply to all Reef Ball Foundation propagation projects and are principles that we suggest should only be circumvented by scientific researchers or trained professionals:

  1. The only source for coral fragments that should be used is an imperiled coral which would otherwise die within one year. Note: If propagation of specific functional groups of coral are required to maintain coral diversity and imperiled colonies cannot be located, cuttings can be taken from wild coral colonies reared on artificial substrates which were previously rescued or raised for the purpose of propagation (in order to maintain genetic integrity and avoid disease, use of aquarium reared coral fragments is expressly forbidden). If this procedure is not an option, see the Coral Rescue section for Reef Ball Foundation protocols for making an exception and taking cuttings from healthy corals.
  2. Never fragment an overly stressed, bleached, or diseased coral.
  3. Never fragment coral when the NOAA Coral Reef Watch Satellite Coral Bleaching Hotspot index is 3.5 or higher.
  4. Work should be suspended on days when dissolved oxygen levels are less than 4.5 mg/l; or water temperatures exceed 30oC (86oF). Note: If equipment is available, Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) levels can also be measured to insure the coral are not stressed before or during propagation and planting procedures. An ORP reading with a minimum of 375 is required.
  5. Never plant coral more than 30 miles (50 km) from their original source. This is a ‘rule of thumb’ guided by the principle that a coral should not be planted at a distance further than it could have covered in its larval free-swimming stage. In the case where scientific research indicates a broader or narrower range for a particular species, the scientific dispersal range for that species should be used instead.
  6. Do not allow different hard coral species to touch each other when planting, and avoid placing them in the same water while in captivity (such as a transportation cooler). This reduces stress on the colonies, and also reduces the risk of injury from interspecific competition.
  7. All staff directly handling corals must wash their hands with antibacterial soap between handling of different coral colonies except when different colonies are derived from the same broodstock colony. If gloves are used, they must be latex or other material types that can be sterilized by washing or they must be disposable. Gloves with very rough surface textures should be avoided as they are more difficult to sterilize.
  8. Coral plugs must be planted to the chosen substrate before a significant fouling community develops. In some environments this can occur as quickly as 30 days in cooler temperatures or in deeper water this may be as long as 90 days. In order to permit planting, several conditions must be met:
    1. Coral Plug Hole must be clean enough so that epoxy putty makes a good bond. If planting is delayed this can be accomplished by abrasive cleaning with a Battery Cleaning Brush or Plug Hole Wire Brush.
    2. Area adjacent to coral plug hole must be clean enough that the coral can freely base over the module without competition. If planting is delayed, this may be accomplishable by abrasive cleaning with a wire Hand Brush.
    3. The fouling community cannot support a significant number coral predators (this varies by location). Cleaning alone will not likely be enough to ensure fragment survival in this case. Note: Only a Coral Team Leader or Co-Leader is qualified to make the decision to proceed with any cleaning activities, and they can make this decision only after verifying by underwater black light that corals have not already settled where the cleaning will take place. Therefore, it is best to plant coral on substrate within a maximum of 30 days after deployment. Under ideal conditions, coral should be planted within 7 days of deployment.
    4. Coral Team volunteers and non-professionals should adhere to doing tasks within their skill limits. These limits come in the form of formal certification levels issued by the Foundation based on work completed on previous projects, but can also be guided during a project by decisions made by the Coral Team Leaders and Co-Leaders who are recognized as professional reef rehabilitation specialists. The Reef Ball Foundation certifies Coral Team members in five different specialty tracks, and uses a 5 tiered certification program for each specialty representing different levels of mastery.

Gathering Imperiled Coral, Fragmenting, Propagation and Planting[edit | edit source]

Gathering Imperiled Coral[edit | edit source]

When selecting imperiled coral for transport, the identification of which species to plant and which colonies to rescue are important and difficult decisions. To aid in this decision, reflect to your goals to determine whether your project is primarily attempting to rescue coral that have been damaged or whether you just trying to find a good source of imperiled coral for creating a new reef. Of course, just because it is not your primary goal does not mean that you cannot attempt to re-stabilize or transplant a large or difficult damaged colony if your resources and expertise permit, just that you should attempt this only after your primary goals have been accomplished.

The corals can be divide into different categories by many different factors. The simplest is to first divide them into two basic groups HARD (or stony corals are ones that precipitate an external calcium skeleton) and SOFT (coals that do not precipitate an external calcium skeleton). Since shapes can generally provide a quick identification we can then group them by growth forms. It is however, important to remember that there can be variance from a colonies "normal" distinctive shape that the majority of the corals of a given type tend to form so do not be to quick to judge. In any case the shape or growth form can be an excellent indicator of the conditions a coral prefers to live under. Coral growth formations are effected by water movement, flow rate, depth, light and other unique site conditions. High flow rate normally results in shorter thicker more dense branches.

The complete categorisation is thus:

  • Hard or stony corals
    • Branching corals (mostly sensitive corals)
    • Encrusting corals (mostly Change tolerant/Hardy corals)
    • Massive corals (?)
    • Solitary corals (?)
    • Tabulate (or table) corals ((mostly sensitive corals))
    • Foliaceous corals (mostly sensitive corals)
    • Laminar corals (?)
    • Columnar corals (?)
    • Turbinate corals (?)

Categorisation can also be done by Handling Style Group:

  • Fire Corals,
  • Soft Corals with Woody Stems (excludes sea fans),
  • Sea Fans,
  • Soft Corals W/O Woody Stems,
  • Finger Sized Branching Corals,
  • Large diameter Branching/Pillar Corals,
  • Encrusting Corals,
  • Mound/Boulder/Brain Corals,
  • Leaf/Plate/Sheet Corals,
  • Flower/Cup/Single Polyp Corals,
  • Black Corals,
  • Other

Generally, each group has similar characteristics for propagation or restabilization although there are exceptions. The “Other” category is for exceptions.

Branching corals: As the name denotes these corals have a growth form that resembles a tree with branches. They are usually anchored by a common base (basing coral) or tree like trunk if you will. They have adopted this growth form because they are usually found in water conditions of high wave action and surges and their "stage horn" shape allows the water to pass through and around them without much resistance. Branching corals are one of the largest contributor to reef formations and include both the thin and thick branched verities.

Encrusting corals: Again, as the name indicates these corals encrusts the surface of the substrate with a veneer or plate like growth. Because of their low profile growth form they are not as usually effected by water movement and can be found throughout most reef conditions. Some of the encrusting corals send up short nodes or projections but not to the extent of a branching coral.

Massive Corals: solid body corals that resemble boulders or brains. Slow growing corals (normally 0.4 to 1.2 inches 1-3 cm per year) but normally live a long time. Usually this shape coral is found in shallow and mid-depth waters were high flow rates can occur yet the coral is not dependent on flow.

Solitary corals: Mature corals in this category are normally unattached to substrate or other coral colonies and most often found on sandy or rocky bottoms. They are not good candidates for planting but should be moved out of harms way whenever necessary but in most cases do not require anchoring after moving.

Tabulate (or Table) corals: Fragments or young colonies of these corals start out encrusting then grow with a a more vertical orientation and eventually develop into flattened, radiating platforms of tightly spaced branches.

Foliaceous corals: form thin upright sheets or plates that resemble curled leaf like formations. Normally found in turbulent fast moving currents helpful in keeping the craves clean of waste and debris while also bringing food to the polyps located within the folds.

Laminar corals: form broad thin, terraced, horizontal plates.

Columnar corals: form non-branching vertical pillars raising from a common usually massive base.

Turbinate corals: resembling an ice cream cone or vase.

If the colonies must be transported, whenever possible choose a site close enough to handle by hand or with lift bags. Moving mature or large coral colonies any distance can be very difficult. Massive corals like brain coral are amazingly dense and can be deceptively heavy. Weights of 150kg (320lbs) for a single large (brain)coral are no exeption. Heavy duty lift bags or assistance from a barge and crane are thus likely to be required. Only select adult colonies that are within your handling capabilities. Rough handling will only create more problems. It is better to successfully rescue smaller colonies that are within your abilities than to expend a great deal of time and energy trying to save a particularly large colony, only to have it die from stress after all of your work. If you can’t rescue all of the imperiled corals in your project area (which is very likely with restabilization methods), select colonies that have features that might make them easier to handle,such as like natural lifting points without polyps. For the most part, corals must be handled as gently as possible to avoid stress. There are a few ‘tricks’ that can be useful. Most coral species can survive exposure to the air for several hours provided they are kept moist (covered in wet blankets or newspaper). In doing this, however, care must be taken to avoid any process that would wash off the slime the coral use to protect themselves when exposed to air. For this reason, do not hose corals down with salt water to keep them wet (although a light misting is fine). Also, coral out of water can sunburn very quickly, even on a cloudy day, so be sure to keep them covered at all times. Smaller colonies can be transported in thermally insulated coolers filled with ambient seawater. If using this technique, however, it is important not to mix species within the same cooler, and to circulate and exchange the water in the cooler as much as possible. If the water stagnates, an oil film can form across the surface, and oxygen levels will plummet, endangering the corals.

Fragmenting[edit | edit source]

Fragmenting of branching corals[edit | edit source]

Branching corals normally have a fast linear growth rate and their branches lend themselves well to fragmentation. Small thin branches are easily broken off the main branch by hand or with the use of a tool. Fragments of 1 inch (2.5 cm) usually work the best. These corals can be fragmented underwater and it is best not to mix species or even fragments from the same species but different colonies whenever possible. The less pressure points during fragmenting the better so try to hold the main colony at the base or by a dead section of the coral with one gloved hand and once you commit to the placement of the tool within the other hand to the coral is made do not move it until the fragment is broken off. Thick branched coals may require more heavy duty type fragmenting tools like bolt cutters, hedge or tree limb loping shears, and hawk saw.

Fragmenting of encrusting corals[edit | edit source]

By first "popping" off the veneer live coral colonies from the base will make fragmenting easier.

Fragmenting of solitary corals[edit | edit source]

Usually single-polyped, single mouthed and they should not be fragmented

Fragmenting of tabulate corals[edit | edit source]

The skeletal structure is very porous and lightweight especially near the ends of the branches and are easily fragmented.

Fragmenting of foliaceous corals[edit | edit source]

The thin plates lend themselves well to fragmentation.

Propogation[edit | edit source]

Planting[edit | edit source]

This Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) began as a 2cm (1 inch) propagated fragment planted into the artificial substrate shown. Within a year, it had grown by 600%.

See Original_environment_rehabilitation_manual_3.365

Coral Rescue[edit | edit source]

When corals have been damaged or are about to be imperiled or destroyed it is often possible to organize and implement a coral rescue project which can re-stabilize damaged colonies, either at the original site of the damage, or, if danger persists, at a safer site elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why a coral rescue project might be necessary. Here are some of the most prevalent ones that we have seen in our work:

  • Coral colonies damaged or broken off in a severe storm
  • Corals damaged or broken by a ship grounding or anchor drag
  • Corals at risk due to point sources of pollution (sewage outfalls, etc.)
  • Corals in an area scheduled to be destroyed or damaged by for construction or development (docks, seawalls, mining operations)
File:Coral propogation & rescue image 2.jpg
Left Frame: Coral re-stabilization, Right frame: Coral Propagation

There are 2 basic rescue types, re-stabilization, and propagation. The use of each depends on the resources available to the project. In re-stabiliation adult coral colonies that have broken off or been damaged can be stabilized and reattached in their present location, or moved to a safer location and secured into an alternate substrate, such as an artificial reef module. The alternative to re-stabilization is propagation. When it is not feasible to move entire adult coral colonies, or when there is too much damaged coral to rescue, small fragments of each colony can be removed and replanted, and will eventually grow into a genetically identical adult colony. This technique is also referred to as genetic coral rescue.

The type and volume of coral impacted may be the best guide as to which method is most appropriate for your situation. If the impacted corals are high value, difficult species to fragment, or very slow growing, then re-stabilizing may be the best option. If the impacted corals are medium to fast growing, easily fragmentable, or there are very large volumes, then propagation and replanting is likely best. In many cases, you will have both coral types and may need to use a combination of both rescue methods to achieve the best result.

Re-stabilization of a large number of coral colonies is often a difficult, costly and labor intensive activity. The resources required for a large scale re-stabilization are rarely justified because the survival rates are not typically very high, especially if the colonies must be relocated. However, there are instances were very simple re-stabilization techniques can be highly effective. For example, after a hurricane, setting brain corals upright can save thousands of colonies with very little effort. Free living (not attached) coral (such as rose coral or many species of pencil coral) can be easily removed from areas where damage is expected (for example before channels are dredged). From our experience, there is no ‘magic bullet’ among re-stabilization methods. There is a great deal of published information on various methods including the most commonly used method, hydrostatic cement reattachment. ( video link demonstrating method). (A pioneer in this method was Dr. Harold Hudson of NOAA) This is not our area of expertise, and so we have chosen not to discuss it in depth. Our Coral Teams are trained in this method, but we only use it occasionally, because in many cases, it is impractical.

One of the main disadvantages to re-stabilization is that it ignores much of the biodiversity that makes up a reef, corals are only one small part of a truly healthy reef community. When that community is severely damaged, it can take decades to fully recover, even if the largest coral colonies are effectively re-stabilized. For these reasons, and because most of our expertise and novel methodology is in the field of propagation and planting techniques on prefabricated artificial reefs as a grassroots method for coral reef rehabilitation, we have chosen to focus our efforts in this manual on this topic. We feel that this technique presents a well balanced short and long term rehabilitation strategy by providing immediate habitat to compensate for loss of EPVS, while preserving a wide range of coral colony genetics to facilitate long-term recovery. Using these methods, reefs will recover natural function even if replanting efforts have minimal success, something which cannot be guaranteed with re- stabilization alone. With time, natural recruitment on artificial substrate will produce an environment closely resembling, if not indistinguishable from natural reef. However, there are many cases where re-stabilization is the most effective rehabilitation option. If you feel that your project is best served by a re-stabilization, we recommend that you discuss this possibility with an expert in that field in order to determine the best methodology. FIG 27: Progression of a deployed Reef Ball of 1,5,and 10 years, if possible.

Another advantage of coral propagation, is that it can also be used to create new reefs. It only takes a very small volume of imperiled coral to propagate into enough fragments create a new reef. Even on relatively healthy reefs, it is almost always possible to find enough imperiled coral damaged by small anchor drops, storms, and other natural processes to build a new reef. If your project involves building an entirely new reef, you may have to work a bit harder to find enough species diversity of imperiled corals. It is always better to propagate using imperiled corals, but sometimes it may not be possible to gather enough diversity of imperiled corals to adequately replicate the diversity of the surrounding natural reef. To overcome this, there are safe methods, used by reef rehabilitation professionals, to take a cutting from a healthy adult colony to be propagated in order to establish that species in a new location. Reef Ball Coral Team ethics do not permit this procedure to be performed on our projects unless all four of the following conditions have been met:

  1. 1 There are no alternatives to obtain the desired species from imperiled stock.
  2. 2 The team has a coral propagation expert or scientist trained in this procedure.
  3. 3 There is a monitoring plan to check that no damage was made to the original coral colony.
  4. 4 Local governmental approval for this procedure has been obtained.


Handling charisteristics of coral categories[edit | edit source]

Handling of Sensitive Corals[edit | edit source]

The Sensitive Coral category generally contains the fastest growing hard coral such as many of the Acropora species. The corals in this category can be more susceptible to coral diseases/damage caused during handling such as rapid tissue necrosis (RTN). Temperature acclimation is also highly recommended when moving corals in the sensitive category. If fragmentation took place underwater of any depth the temperature change to surface or shallow water conditions experienced during the "plug" making process can be detrimental. There are always exceptions in a non-perfect world; Porites porites and Madracis mirabilis also called finger or pencil coral and a few others that are considered Branching corals are Change Tolerant/Hardy Corals since they are a slower growing coral that handle changes in temperature or turbid conditions well. These coral can often be handled with less care and generally have high survivability. They make good "beginner or team training" corals.

Tools required[edit | edit source]

Needle nose pliers, bone cutter, scissors,

Examples of species[edit | edit source]

Most branching corals fall into this category.

The genus Acropora (pronounced akro-por-a or in the USA ah-crop'-or-ah or ak'-roh-pohr'-ah are also expectable pronunciations) is they most recognizable and most abundant coral in this growth form. Some Porties spp. Madracis spp. and Montipora spp. as well as Pocillipora, Seriatopora, Palauastrea, and Stylophora are also branching corals

Handling of encrusting corals[edit | edit source]

Most are Change Tolerant/Hardy Corals

Tools required[edit | edit source]

Hammer and screw driver, crow bar, for removing the colony from its base then needle nose pliers, bone cutter, hack saw to fragment.

Examples of species[edit | edit source]

The genus Montipora (pronounced mon-tee-por-a) and Porties (pronounced por-eye-tees) both contain branching and encrusting species. Porties astreoides (mustard hill coral) found through out the Caribbean is a perfect example of an encrusting coral that can be "popped" off and then fragmented into coral plugs or the complete colony can be moved and re-attached on a layer-cake style Reef Ball. Siderastrea radinas (lesser starlet coral) and one of the few stony corals found in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It is a very hardy slow growing coral that can tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, most any water movement conditions, all variations in light intensities and can even survive being buried in mud or sand for days. It is however difficult to "chip" off as the colonies are almost permanently affixed to hard substrate and it may be best to move the rock they are attached to at the same time.

Handling of massive corals[edit | edit source]


Tools required[edit | edit source]

Hack saw, crow bar, hydrolic chain saw,

Examples[edit | edit source]

Diploria labyrinthiformis (Caribbean grooved brain)

Handling of solitary corals[edit | edit source]

Care should be taken not to place these relocated corals to close to other corals as they can emit a think mucus and it this comes in contact with most any other coral it will kill them or at a minimum case serious damage.

Tools required[edit | edit source]

Gloves for moving.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Fungia (pronounced fun-dgee-a) Halomitra (pronounced hal'-oh-my'-trah), Neptune's cap coral, Herpolitha (pronounced her'-poh-lee'-thah) and Polyphyllia (pronounced paw'-lee-fill'-ee-ah) both with the same common names of tongue or slipper coral, Sandalolitha (pronounced san'-da-loh-lee'-thah) dome coral, and Cynarina (pronounced sigh'-nah-ree'-nah) and Scolymia (pronounced skahl'-ee-my'- ah) both referred to as button coral, and Manicina areolata (Caribbean Rose coral) are all prime example of a Solitary coral.

Handling of tabulate corals[edit | edit source]

Most tabulate corals fall into the Sensitive Coral category generally the fastest growing hard coral such as many of the Acropora (table top) species can be more susceptible to coral diseases/damage caused during handling such as rapid tissue necrosis (RTN) and seem to be one of the least tolerant to temperature flux. Temperature acclimation is highly recommended when moving this coral. If fragmentation took place underwater of any depth the temperature change to surface or shallow water conditions experienced during the "plug" making process can be detrimental.

Tools required[edit | edit source]

Needle nose pliers, bone cutter, scissors, hawk saw.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Formations of this type can be found among species of Acropora, Montipora, and Merulina (pronounced merry-you-line-a) as well as other less common genus.

Handling of foliaceous corals[edit | edit source]

Susceptible to white-band disease and are not real tolerant of chemicals like coral dips. While slow growing most foliaceous corals still fall into the Sensitive Coral category. Always the exception Pavona is considered to be in the Change Tolerant/Hardy Coral group.

Tools required[edit | edit source]

Needle nose pliers, bone cutter, scissors.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Leptoseris cucullata (Caribbean lettuce coral) Turbinaria, Pachseris (pronounced pak'-ee-seh'-ris) elephant skin coral and Pavona (pronounced pa-voh'-nah) cactus coral are examples of foliaceous corals.

Handling of laminar corals[edit | edit source]


Tools required[edit | edit source]

Needle nose pliers, bone cutter, scissors,

Examples[edit | edit source]


Handling of columnar corals[edit | edit source]


Tools required[edit | edit source]


Examples[edit | edit source]

Dendrogyra cylindrus (Caribbean pillar coral) Psammocora

Handling of turbinate corals[edit | edit source]


Tools required[edit | edit source]

Needle nose pliers, bone cutter,

Examples[edit | edit source]

Example: Mintipora capricornis

Common Mistakes in propogation/coral rescue[edit | edit source]

The following list of common mistakes or bad practices is not provided in any order of importance.

  • Finger coral should be planted sideways, not upright to create a better base.
  • Coral fragments and coral plugs should not be subjected to rapid changes in temperature, salinity or light level.
  • Exposing coral to un-shaded sunlight when out of the water can cause sunburn very rapidly and therefore umbrellas or shade producing devices should be provided over coral propagation tables and any temporary disaster nurseries in less than 4 feet of water.
  • Do not touch coral without first fanning water over them to make sure the polyps

are fully retracted.

  • Do not use tap water or drinking water to mix Antiseptic dip or any iodine based antiseptics. Antiseptic dip must be diluted in fresh clean seawater, additionally it must be kept at the same temperature, pH, and salinity as ambient seawater. For this reason it is best to change the antiseptic dip frequently, and mix it no stronger than the suggested concentration of 5ml per 250ml of water (1 teaspoon per eight ounces).
  • Do not use too much water when mixing plug cement (or the plugs will be too weak to function). Use additional Adva Flow if needed to make the concrete looser.
  • If a batch of plug cement comes out too loose or stiff, do not set coral fragments in it. Simply discard it and start again.
  • Do not make coral plugs unless concrete is sufficiently loose to form a level surface. Otherwise, the coral fragment will not seal properly and infection or dislodging from the plug can occur.
  • Once a fragment has been placed into a coral plug do not remove and replace the fragment for any reason. It has a better chance of surviving if placed improperly and left than if removed and replaced.

Disclaimer[edit | edit source]

This information was Reef Ball's Draftguide document.

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