Community Build Event: Pargo Point

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2019 has kicked off with a bang for Coral Restoration Panama.

We have been busy building our coral nursery site, gathering coral clones and developing our sustainable non-profit strategy. Part of that strategy development has been taking an in-depth look at the programs behind Coral Restoration with the goal of ensuring that our impact has the lasting effects we are aiming for.

You may not know this, but a significant part of Coral Restorations programming is more than just “putting reef structures in the water”. We are working to positively influence entire marine ecosystems, and in the Bocas Archipelago, that means creating access to better nutrition (more coral habitat = more abundant fish!), and economic opportunities to advance indigenous communities.

Little by little, we are putting the pieces together a complete program for Coral Restoration to bring this vision into reality.

We are kicking off our program with a Community Build Event in partnership with another important organization here in Bocas - Floating Doctors. Together, we are going to be hosting an education and coral structure build event with teenagers from the community. Over the course of a few days - we will be introducing our event attendees to the process of coral restoration, building and curing the structures, and then installing them nearby where the local community can witness the transformation from “underwater desert” to a thriving fish habitat.

With their established access to local communities and a fantastic build site, Floating Doctors is able to ensure that the local kids will be in attendance (and well fed) during the event. Coral Restoration will be bringing our education program, artificial structure supplies and talents to create a complete reef (25 individual structures), and then installing it at a nearby location.

That location, as of this moment, doesn’t have a name. We want to turn it into Pargo Point.

Pargo (snapper) is a fish that is normally in abundance around Bocas when they have the habitat. The vision is that local kids participating in the build will see how the structures improve the local fishing, and that the adults will also see the impact, and the economic opportunity.

Part of our long term goals are to offer formal training and apprenticeship of adults who will be able to create the structures and sell them back to Coral Restoration as we continue installing structures throughout the archipelago.

Pargo Point Community Build is an informal kickoff to this program in partnership with Floating Doctors. The vision is big. Our goals are immense. But we aspire to recovering the marine ecosystems here in the South Caribbean, and this small step forward is a big one for Coral Restoration.

Want to help make this Community Build a success?

Coral Restoration is in need of 20 snorkel sets. We will be bringing a dozen or so kids to the installation location to show them what the site looks like before, and then after Installation Day, we’ll be bringing them back to see the difference. Those 20 snorkel sets will allow us to make sure everyone involved can participate, and the sets will become part of our nursery kit as well so that our donors, volunteers and staff can use them when visiting our other installation sites and tending to the coral clones growing in the nursery. We have priced the snorkels at about $20 a kit - things are a bit more expensive here on the islands since they are shipped in from elsewhere, but the impact they will have as part of the Coral Restoration program is long lived!

If you’d like to help bring this vision to reality, we could use your help. We’re grateful for your donations!

Our Most Frequently Asked Questions

We answer your most pressing questions...

In this article we're sharing answers to the questions we get asked the most about Coral Restoration Panama.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How long has Coral Restoration Panama been in existence?
    We have been operating in reef reconstruction for three years. Coral Restoration Panama was founded in 2015. In fact, we are the only coral/reef restoration project in Panama to date.

  • Where are you located?
    Coral Restoration Panama is located in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago off the north east Caribbean-facing coast of Panama in Central America.

Robin building a reef structure that will be covered in environmentally friendly concrete appropriate for the new home of growing corals.

Robin building a reef structure that will be covered in environmentally friendly concrete appropriate for the new home of growing corals.

  • Are you a for-profit business?
    Nope. We are a 501(c)3 charity organization created for the purpose of rebuilding reefs and coral, while educating local populations on how to conserve and reinvigorate the sea. Coral Restoration Panama is run by a group of volunteers striving to make a difference in the sustainability of the ocean environment in a community desperately in need of assistance. 

  • What is a coral nursery?
    A coral nursery is where coral clones can be raised and protected from outside forces and competitors. They are both shore based and ocean based. We have both. In this protected state, coral grow as much as 40 times faster than under normal conditions. When they reach a size suitable for transplanting they are returned to the wild. New clones are continuously harvested from the “mother” specimens to replace those transplanted. In outplant area, several specimens with unique qualities that have allowed them to survive are intermingled so that in the natural reproduction process more resilient coral are potentially produced.

  • Is this your unique method of coral restoration?
    We have been mentored and tutored by some of the world’s top practitioners; this knowledge does not belong to us alone. We have, however perfected some unique techniques that are being utilized by other restoration facilities. 

  • What are your plans for 2019?
    Plans for the upcoming year are to create and perfect a system to produce a steady inventory of reef structures, which will give employment to local workers and provide a ready source of reef enhancement structures. We will grow our nursery facility to at least 5000 clones growing in our open ocean facilities and another 2000 growing in our land based systems. We also want to continue our program of education for school kids in the area with organized tours and snorkel trips where they can learn the importance of responsible behavior towards our oceans.

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  • Can I come visit?
    Oh definitely! You can come and visit us anytime. Bring your swimsuit, the water is wonderful. If you want to help build, install and actually be a part of the process, you should get in touch.

What Does Coral Reef Restoration Actually Look Like?

How coral restoration works...

Get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to rebuild reefs, and how Coral Restoration Panama is helping reef recovery in the Caribbean.

Spoiler alert: it's a lot of hard work, and totally cool

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A diver cutting clones from resilient "parent" specimens which will be placed in an open water "line" nursery or of tiny cement pucks in a land-based nursery until they have grown into a clone large enough to plant in an artificial reef structure.

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A Coral Nursery

We install nursery trees in protected nooks in the sea near Isla Solarte. The little coral babies are attached to our nursery structure where they are routinely checked, "cleaned" and measured for growth progress. 

One of the many amazing discoveries in recent years about coral growth is that the healthy clones from a similar "mother" can actually "sense" that they are near other clones from the same coral. As a result, they grow at a MUCH faster rate than usual to rejoin the other pieces, resulting incredible growth rates

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Building a new home

Using recycled and repurposed materials, a frame is created for the artificial reef. It is covered using a sea and wildlife safe type of concrete that coral clones will want to build their new homes on. Once the structures have been formed and dried, we use our trusty transport Musa (the boat) to float the reef to its new home,where we install it on the sea floor.

Once the clones in the nursery are large enough, they are transferred from the nursery tree to the new reef. As the corals on the reef rebuild, all types of fish and creatures find a new home in the reef. And thanks to the returning fish population, the local indigenous communities in Bocas Del Toro have a renewed food source.

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The reefs and mangrove islands protect the archipelago

As essential parts of the ecosystem, the newly installed reefs work in tandem with the mangrove islands to protect the larger islands of Bocas Del Toro from further erosion and ocean events where a high tide or rising sea levels can threaten the rest of the archipelago.

The result of coral restoration is an entire system of conservation that starts with just one brave little coral clone!

Looking back on 2018 with our Founder, Doug Marcy

It’s been a very eventful year in our Coral Restoration Panama project. The end of the year is rolling around so quickly, we decided to take the opportunity to touch base and share some good news and important updates with you. 

With world-wide coral bleaching events in the last few years, and the archipelago where we reside on the Caribbean side of Panama severely affected, it's been a struggle to find hope in the news about climate change.

There is good news…

In marine labs around the world there have been incredible advancements in recovering coral life. Despite the bleaching, there are evolving coral survivors and they can be used to provide “seed stock” for coral nurseries, that are then grown and planted in artificial reefs. In fact, some of the techniques used to recover these coral specimens have revealed some astounding results where corals are growing back at unprecedented rates! As these reefs recover with the planted corals, diverse fish populations return, and entire underwater ecosystems are being rebuilt. 

At Coral Restoration Panama, we had three big goals for 2018:

  • Get our licensing from Panama finalized to install the nursery

  • Secure at least 1000 coral clones

  • Install 50 artificial reef structures

With 2018 coming to a close, not only have we achieved all of our goals, but by the end of the year, we will double the amount of nursery stock we are raising - 2000 clones! 

In addition to achieving these milestones, we have also been amazed at the difference we have made in the last three years in the amount and variety of marine life now thriving in our “proof of concept” reef. Hannig Reef - named in honor of the mother of one of our donors - where once cans and bottles festooned the seabed, now corals, colorful sponges, sea urchins, lobsters and an array of tropical fish too numerous to count inhabit the once nearly lifeless environment.

It’s been so encouraging to see this progress in our work, to finally obtain the licensing we needed to build nurseries, and to see tangible results in our efforts of helping the coral recover.

Looking Toward 2019:

We are putting in place a strategy for Coral Restoration Panama to ensure our continued growth and impact. In the coming months we will be sharing more of our story, our progress and how you can be involved. 

We need your help. 

We are the only organization in the country of Panama that is actively pursuing the restoration of coral reef environments. Contributions to this organization during the past few years have made it possible to begin the rebuilding of the reef structure and coral systems in the Bocas del Toro Caribbean archipelago. 

Using modern restoration techniques and regional educational workshops, we have already made a difference in re-establishing the fisheries of the area which are so important to the indigenous people living there who depend on subsistence from a sustainable ocean environment. 

As the end of the year rolls around, it is your opportunity to put your dollars towards making a difference, and we would like you to consider Coral Restoration Panama. We are a fully non-profit 503c organization and your donations are tax deductible. 

Take this opportunity to put your dollars into an organization where your donation will have profound, lasting impact.

Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and contributions to this effort. We wouldn’t be where we are without the incredible support of our mentors, donors, core team and industry partners who have given of their time, resources and expertise so generously. We are grateful for you. I am grateful for you.

Here’s to a fantastic year in 2019,

DougMarcy-Founder


Doug Marcy
Founder
Coral Restoration Panama

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

For over three years we have been striving to receive our official permissions to practice coral
restoration using nursery propagation and out-planting techniques. You can only imagine how
much impact that authorization will have on our ability to effectively move forward.
We have not been idle with our preparations in the meantime. Coral Restoration involves a lot of
complex and diverse interactions with existing marine eco-systems and environmental
conditions. One of the challenges faced in the Bocas archipelago is the compromised fish
population due to overfishing accelerated by the simultaneous loss of habitat. A thriving fishery
is instrumental in helping to control the growth and spread of certain algae that overrun sea
structures including both dead and living corals. The result is that there is no base for the coral
larvae to land and attach even if they survive the perils these tiny planula must face between
fertilization and their maturity to a stage where they are ready to attach to something solid and
begin a new coral colony.
Suitable substrate structure is absolutely necessary for the success of coral regeneration and reef
regrowth. As coral restoration practitioners, we were aware of this problem from the beginning.
Our analysis was verified by several professional marine biology experts. At that point, our goal
became two-fold. Recreate habitat to encourage restoration of the local fisheries and make
available as much compatible substrate as possible to facilitate natural coral regeneration.
After much research and helpful advice from other reef restoration practitioners, we choose to
follow in the footsteps of success and use a concrete formula that has a composition, chemical
balance and texture that coral planula find attractive.

The creative talents of our team have made it possible to create structures that meet a wide range of criteria. We want the structures to look reasonably organic, so they eventually blend in to the natural habitat. It is important that they be large enough and structured so that they serve to mitigate destructive wave action but small enough to be practical for handling and transport to
outplant sites. We also need to consider how they will best serve the other marine life existing in
the area. Obviously, materials cost and labor factor into the total picture. Whenever possible, we
incorporate various non-toxic skeletal materials like discarded PVC pipe sections.

Little by little we have developed some interesting and creative structural platforms that meet the
criteria we set forth. Based on these prototypes, we will begin a production process that will let
us set a schedule of continuous reef development in targeted areas. Already we are seeing changes in the populations and species numbers of marine life in our test
areas. It will truly be exciting to watch what happens in the next few months if things keep
moving in the direction they are now.

5 Ways to Help Save Our Ocean's Reefs

There are so many articles these days about the decay of our oceans reefs - mostly doom and gloom. The majority of the problem boils down to 2 words: HUMAN IMPACT. If you're like me, you hate hearing that this is happening but you're overwhelmed with hopelessness. What can I do about this? How can I help? Here are some ways that you can participate in reversing the damage done.

  1. Reduce Waste: a first and easy step is to be mindful of your personal waste. By making a conscious decision to pay attention to how much waste you produce will result in wasting less. 7 Ways to Be Mindful of Waste
  2. Use Less Plastic: the amount of waste in our oceans that are plastic are astounding. Have you heard of the plastic islands floating in the world? Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  3. Ask: research organizations that are part of this effort and send messages asking how you can help.
  4. Volunteer: many organizations have volunteer and participative volunteer programs. Vacation destination trips can be combined with volunteering resulting in coming back from your time away feeling great about what you've given to the ocean. *coming soon at Coral Restoration Panama
  5. Donate: I can feel the eyes rolling already. :) In our own fundraising efforts, I've asked friends and family what's holding them back from donating. Many times I hear that money is a concern and there isn't enough to give that will matter. My response: even $10 makes a huge difference! If 25 people give $10 towards our work - that pays for a new artificial reef structure to be planted in the water, providing fish habitat and reliable structures for coral to thrive on. DONATE NOW to help our project.

We have dedicated our lives to working on this problem. While not everyone can do so - everyone can help in some way, no matter how small.

A New Perspective

The sky is falling, the sea is rising and everything in between is in danger of being overrun by rabid Sphinx moths living in abandoned church steeples.

Everywhere you turn, it’s doom and gloom. Our information sources in today’s world are dominated by sensationalism. And “Why not?” It’s a sure way to gain attention. As humans, we are conditioned to be aware of objects and events that may cause a potential threat. It follows then that we are drawn to the negative. The eventual consequence of this conditioned response is that we become consumed by fear and drama even though we may be standing in a field of flowers with hummingbirds and butterflies dancing all around us.

The point is that we need to look around a little more to realize that, in spite of the challenges, there are a lot of good things happening in today’s world. For example, during the last few years, most of what we hear is about the disaster of the ongoing plight of our seas. But, while it is true that the impacts of humanity have stressed the oceans in many ways, it is also true that great progress is being made on many levels to change destructive conditions and behavior patterns.

We are fortunate to live in an age where science, technology and communication are tools powerful enough to allow us to restore the beauty and sustainability of our waters on a global scale. In places where forward thinking governments and agencies have encouraged these technologies to be applied, companies, practioners and biologists working together have already made great strides in every aspect of the field of marine ecosystem restoration.

In the field of coral restoration, new ideas and practices are speeding up recovery times exponentially. Using artificial stimulation, some corals can be induced to spawn at greater frequency rates. The fertilized spawn can be collected and the resulting larvae transferred to nurseries or areas where conditions are conducive to maximize survival rate. This discovery alone has given us a greater sense of hope for creating replacement corals on a scale and in a time-frame that is practical.

In another new development, there are now established Coral Farms where selective corals are raised in huge numbers over relatively short periods of time. This allows for the transplanting of thousands of new healthy coral colonies every day. 

New technologies in building and placing artificial reef structures are being developed using materials that are stable, non-toxic, and specifically designed as ideal coral larvae attachment substrate. Using these as starting platforms is changing the rate at which sustainable marine ecosystems can be reestablished.

Stronger, more resultant strains of some of our most valuable reef-building corals have been developed and the methodologies used are being shared to coral restoration programs world-wide.

The impact of these rapid developments is starting to be recognized on a global scale. In spite of fear-based restrictions and hesitant actions or inactions by administrative regulators, these scientific discoveries and technologies are making an undeniable positive effect wherever they are allowed to be practiced. 

Here at Coral Restoration Panama, we are proud of the results we have achieved in our demonstration “proof-of-concept” project. In a place that was once a coral graveyard, where only empty cans and plastic trash flourished, there are now living, growing corals, tropical fish and protected areas where fish and other marine life can live and thrive. We want to continue a policy of bringing you only good news as we expand our capabilities and knowledge. One of our goals this year is to place an underwater camera on one of our test sites so you can check in at anytime and see what we do and enjoy the results of our efforts. Stay tuned, I will keep you informed as we go forward.

Response to Challenges

The science guiding the action...

Occasionally I will relate some detail about marine eco-systems or restoration methodologies that produce a response challenging my expertise and or methodology. I am always open to criticism and hope that it is presented in a constructive manner. There is a learning curve for even the most knowledgeable and experienced of us. Every challenge is unique. I am the first to admit that we are not all-knowing and we have made mistakes along the way. However our willingness to listen, observe, learn and be flexible has certainly given us the ability to be successful and ultimately moving in the right direction at Coral Restoration Panama.

The following is in response to an inquiry about my source of resources for the informational papers that were used to introduce the concept of Coral Restoration Panama Center and begin the permitting process…..

“The main sources of information for Coral Restoration Panama concerning the restoration of fisheries habitat and coral reefs systems are publications from the Smithsonian Institute, Mote Marine Research Laboratory, Coral Restoration Foundation and publications by Ned DeLoach and the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science along with other scientific research papers and articles too numerous to describe. Additional resources are personal contact and “hands-on” training with active Coral restoration practitioners in the greater Caribbean region.

I am not, nor have I ever professed to be a Marine Biologist.  I do have an extensive background in animal husbandry and far-reaching real-life experience in natural sciences. Some of my past projects have left a positive impact on the environment that are extensive enough to be visible on Google Earth. For continued success in Coral and Fisheries Habitat Restoration in these waters of Bocas del Toro, I rely on the knowledge and experience of the Marine Biologist Community at large. These supportive Researchers and Institutions continue to share priceless information and advice to us that is directly relevant to our specific goals and needs.

The point of any of our presentations is not to try to keep up with developing academic information about every aspect of marine ecosystems. The idea is to present a comprehensive picture of the stress and challenges being faced by marine eco-systems worldwide with emphasis on cause and effect. The intended focus is on possible solutions and the success of what is being done with the abilities and willingness of a small group of people hoping to continue that effort.

There are probably enough arguable technical aspects to any document attempting to cover such a broad scope to keep several colonies of academics in discussion groups and dissertations for grant proposals for the next generation.  By that time it will not matter what fish ate what fish or what constitutes the perfect conditions for coral growth.  By that time, the reefs will be dead. They are already in a state of change that will bring on a new “normal” unlike anything we have seen at this point.

The sad truth is, that no matter what we do in the water, nothing will ultimately matter if we, as a species, do not change the way we abuse the oceans. In my opinion, what we are doing by promoting the creation of working coral nurseries is using the inherent beauty and romance of the sea to create a platform whereby we can reach out to upcoming generations. The purpose being to demonstrate, through experiential education, past mistakes and the future promise brought to life by the implementation of a more responsible behavior toward the seas.

Ultimately, our true measure of success will not be whether we succeed in our goal of being able to transplant x-number of new corals each year. What will truly matter is if we are able to influence the emotional responses of enough future generations that environmental preservation becomes a priority and not an afterthought.”

Behind the Curtain

Several years ago, when I started the Coral Restoration Panama project, I had no idea of the depth of complexity behind what I wanted to accomplish. On the surface, it all looks pretty simple and straightforward. 

  1. World-wide, Coral Reefs are in decline.

  2. The reef systems are incredibly necessary to the balance of marine eco-systems.

  3. There are scientifically developed and field-tested methodologies in place to create coral nursery facilities.

  4. Outplant programs from nurseries are making a positive impact in the regeneration of reefs and marine eco-systems wherever they are being implemented.

  5. Although there are many Coral Restoration projects in the Greater Caribbean, nothing is being done in Panama.

  6. The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro (where I live) obviously needs help for its marine eco-systems.

No brainer! All I have to do is follow the example and teachings of those already practicing successful Coral Restoration procedures. With a little help, I can be growing coral to help reef recovery in a few months.  Righhhhhhht!

My first step was to contact and meet with some of the people and organizations already successfully practicing coral restoration. For the most part, I found that the greater community of coral restoration people and companies were eager to share knowledge and offer advice. Everyone was very encouraging to the overall concept of my idea to begin a nursery on the Caribbean side of Panama. It also became obvious, reading between the lines, that there were going to be a few rough seas in my future.

Every situation is different and has its own challenges. The Bocas del Toro archipelago is especially unique because of the way it is oriented to the sea and the surrounding rainforest mountains. Luckily, this region has a Smithsonian Institution Research center located on the island of Colon in the Bocas archipelago. I contacted marine biologists and several local experts who were familiar with this area or had experience in the field of marine environments. Once again, I found encouragement and a great deal of invaluable expertise and advise.

All of this helped me to form a specific course of action and begin outlining the steps to make the project possible. First, it became apparent that I would need a funding organization and a corporation in Panama to obtain the necessary permissions and run the actual operational procedures.

The result of all this was that I was to spend most the next 6 months immersed in a sea of paperwork instead of a sea of coral. However, as you will see when our story continues, it was also time well spent setting up the groundwork for the actual coral nursery operation and learning more about the existing coral populations and their conditions.