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GCA Fellowship Recipient and “Reef Goats” Work to Save the Coral Reefs


May 27, 2021

A Native Sea Crab Could Help to Restore Deteriorating Coral Reefs

When Dr. Jason Spadaro dives into his work, he literally dives into it. The Certified Scientific Diver uses his scuba skills in his up-close field assessments of tropical marine ecological systems, especially coral reef communities. Dr. Spadaro was the recipient of The Garden Club of America’s (GCA) 2016 Fellowship in Ecological Restoration, which supported his research on seagrass beds and coral colonies in the Lower Florida Keys. His research has been a game-changer, especially when it was discovered that a native sea crab could help to restore deteriorating coral reefs.

Due to climate change, many coral reefs have degenerated, and growing in their place is an overabundance of seaweed. Although seaweeds are beneficial to the ocean ecosystem, too much growth can also cause harm to coral reefs. They can prevent the baby corals from settling into reefs as they block the sunlight needed for them to grow and reproduce.

Dr. Spadaro researched the “cascading effects” of the Caribbean king crab on coral reef communities. The crabs, which are native to Florida and the Caribbean, act as “reef goats” that eat almost any type of seaweed, and they eat a lot of it. When introduced to experimental plots on coral reefs, the crabs reduced the seaweed cover by fifty to eighty percent, resulting in a commensurate three to five-fold increase in coral recruitment and reef fish community abundance and diversity. The encouraging news is that Dr. Spadaro and his fellow researchers believe that boosting the presence of these crabs in the wild could help combat the seaweed problem and ultimately restore the reefs.

The GCA offers 29 merit-based scholarships and fellowships in 12 areas related to conservation, ecology, horticulture, and pollinator research. In 2020, $306,000 was awarded to 64 scholars. Follow @GCAScholarships on Twitter to connect to a larger world of horticulture and conservation through the GCA scholars. To read more about Dr. Spadaro’s experiments in the coral reefs please read Science Daily.

Photo courtesy of Jason Spadaro, Assistant Professor of Marine Science and Technology, College of the Florida Keys


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