Sponge Surgery

 Researchers propose new way to repair reefs after storms

Scientists have invented a better fixer-upper for damaged coral reefs. The method could aid local restoration efforts to rehabilitate these ecosystems in the aftermath of hurricanes or harmful human activities.

After such events, large sponges often litter the ground and die because they cannot grow back onto the reef. So far, various cements and glues have failed to provide a fix, and as a result, restoration projects have focused on smaller organisms that are easier to patch.

Using a new technique involving a “sponge holder,” the team removed and then affixed 20 Caribbean giant barrel sponges at Conch Reef near Key Largo, Florida. Almost two-thirds of the sewed-on specimens survived at least another two to three years, during which four hurricanes passed over the area. Most of the sponges naturally reattached to the reef, something that did not occur in previous surgical attempts. ❧

— Jessica Leber

McMurray, S.E., and J.R. Pawlik. 2009. A novel technique for the reattachment of large coral reef sponges. Restoration Ecology 17(2)192-195.

© Christian Fundin/iStock.com

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