News Release

California Academy of Sciences and Roatán Marine Park receive $1.5 million grant for coral restoration in Honduras

The grant will fund the first coral rearing lab in Honduras and development of more effective techniques for coral conservation

Grant and Award Announcement

California Academy of Sciences

Coral spawning


A coral colony releases gamete bundles during an assisted spawning event inside the Academy's Coral Regeneration Lab (CoRL). (Shayle Matsuda © California Academy of Sciences).

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Credit: Shayle Matsuda © California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences and Roatán Marine Park have been awarded a $1.5 million grant to construct the first coral rearing facility in Honduras and test the most effective methods to restore coral reefs on the island of Roatán.

In partnership with Honduras-based nonprofit Roatán Marine Park (RMP), the Academy research team will develop new techniques to promote the survival of young corals, apply these techniques to Roatán’s rapidly degrading coral reefs, and provide coral husbandry training for researchers from RMP and beyond. Awarded by the Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform (CORDAP), the generous grant supports the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative to reverse the rapid decline of our planet’s coral reefs by 2030.

An estimated 90% of juvenile corals die within their first six months of life. Over the next three years, Academy researchers will test several interventions to improve the health, growth, and survival of coral larvae in the Academy’s Coral Regeneration Lab (CoRL) and apply the most effective methods to coral colonies within the Caribbean’s Mesoamerican Reef.

“Corals experience high levels of early mortality, which are currently being worsened by increasingly adverse environmental conditions,” says Rebecca Albright, PhD, the Academy’s curator of invertebrate zoology and founder of CoRL. “On top of stressors like ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures, the Mesoamerican Reef is rapidly losing coral colonies to stony coral tissue loss disease. This decline in coral populations has led to lower genetic diversity on the reef, leaving it more susceptible to local and global stressors. Thanks to CORDAP’s support, we hope to increase the overall number of sexually reproducing corals in this critical ecosystem, bolstering the reef’s genetic diversity and making it more resilient to a changing environment.”

The three-year project will kick off in December 2023, when three members of the RMP research team will travel to San Francisco to assist with the Academy’s annual two-week spawning event and subsequent larval propagation.

New coral rearing lab

In early 2024, the research team will begin construction on a coral rearing lab in the Roatán Marine Park—the first facility of its kind in Honduras. Corals will be monitored in nurseries on the reef, which can be transferred to land-based facilities for additional testing. This new facility will also serve as a training center for coral husbandry and assisted sexual reproduction, where the team will develop manuals in both English and Spanish to support coral restoration efforts throughout the region.

For RMP Program Manager Andrea Godoy, the new coral rearing lab presents exciting opportunities to collaborate with researchers working to reverse the degradation of the Mesoamerican Reef. “This collaboration represents a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about these innovative approaches to reef restoration from leading international coral reproduction experts. The facilities that will be installed and capacities that will be enhanced from these efforts will undoubtedly prove beneficial for the country and the Mesoamerican Reef region, broadening our reach and further fueling our research potential,” Godoy said. “We expect that the implementation of these interventions in Honduras will have a significant positive impact on these vulnerable ecosystems that goes far beyond the three-year project.”

Testing three promising strategies

Before corals grow into their familiar calcified structures, they begin their life as free-swimming larvae in search of an ideal place to metamorphose and permanently settle. This “settlement” stage is a highly intensive process during which many young corals deplete their energy reserves. In order to shepherd coral larvae through this critical bottleneck, Albright and the CoRL team have identified three promising therapies that could lead to more resilient individuals:

Increasing water alkalinity to enhance early skeletal formation in corals.
Dosing larvae with amino acids to nutritionally assist coral growth and development.
Inoculating larvae with algae that may serve as a supplemental energy source.
In addition to these three new interventions, the research team will also selectively breed for heat-tolerant individuals, which are likely to be more resilient to rising ocean temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels. This enhanced culturing will initially take place at the California Academy of Sciences using the Indo-Pacific coral species Acropora millepora. The most effective interventions will then be applied in the field at the Roatán Marine Park, where they will be tested across a range of species at sites that have been affected by stony coral tissue loss disease.

“These are low-tech, low-cost interventions that can easily be replicated on coral reefs around the world,” says Academy researcher Elora López-Nandam, PhD. “By providing in-country training and introducing effective techniques that require minimal infrastructure, we hope to help equip conservation managers and practitioners in developing countries to increase local coral cover and ultimately create a global network of partners working towards regenerating reefs.”

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