History of Expedition Akumal

In 2014 Expedition Akumal was founded by the Hotel Akumal Caribe, when a group of local dive professionals and citizen scientists, diving with Akumal Dive Center began monitoring changes to the population of Acroporid corals on the reefs of Akumal, where they were observing changes to the reef.  The Expedition Akumal coral reef restoration project was born from a passion for marine conservation and wanting to make a difference. The local ecological organisation Centro Ecologico Akumal reached out to coral reef restoration experts, Oceanus a.c, who included Akumal as part of their national restoration project, and provided Expedition Akumal the research permits they needed to get the program off of the ground. In 2015, the Hotel Akumal Caribe invited their volunteer diver, Jenny Mallon, to lead the project, who continues to support restoration work and coral research in Akumal as part of her PhD studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. 

The installation of Akumal’s first coral nurseries began in 2015 with 35 fragments ‘of opportunity’ of the reef-building Staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, collected from the seafloor. Using standard propagation techniques following the guidelines of Bowden-Kirby et al. (2001) and the Caribbean Acropora restoration guide : best practices for propagation and population enhancement (Johnston of these fragments developed the nurseries at 2 sites with 350 coral fragments and over 500 transplanted onto the reef substrate to date. Transplantation showed 90% survival rates within the first 2 months, and an increase in both abundance and diversity of fish within the restoration sites. Experimenting with distinct transplantation protocols has shown mixed results, and motivated the development of novel techniques for out-planting corals. 

In 2016, Expedition Akumal’s lead biologist, Jenny Mallon, was invited to join the team of Operation Wallacea as a reef ecology lecturer, so that Expedition Akumal had extra support from OpWall’s research assistants who helped to transplant corals and build a database on the survival and long-term impact  of the restoration. Most importantly, they collect data on the coral and herbivore populations to monitor the effects of coral transplantation on other, important, reef organisms.

Through training and collaboration with Dr Anastazia Banaszak, Principle Investigator of the Integrative Research for Coral Reef Conservation Laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the home of Secore International‘s training and capacity centre for the Mesoamerican reef, Expedition Akumal joined the network of restoration programs incorporating coral sexual reproduction to increase genetic diversity and resilience of restored coral populations.  With the support of this expert team, Jenny  initiated the Akumal coral spawning observation and gamete collection program, achieving the first recorded instance of coral spawning in Akumal in August 2017. The gametes collected were fertilised ex situ in the temporary lab installed in the Hotel Akumal Caribe. In 2018, with financial and logistical support from Coral Consveration Society, we expanded the coral spawaning activities of Akumal, trained international dive and snorkel volunteers to collect gametes, and built our custom design laboratory for coral assited fertlisation at the Hotel Akumal Caribe.

 

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