• Marine Conservation
  • Wildlife Conservation

How are coral nurseries helping to save the ocean?

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: June 8, 2022

Coral reefs foster so much biodiversity that they are sometimes called the rainforests of the sea. Sadly, the planet has lost half of all coral reefs since the 1950s. 

Coral reefs are essential marine ecosystems, providing a habitat for 25% of all marine species. However, corals are sensitive to changes in temperature and acidity, and are increasingly falling victim to ocean warming and acidification. On top of that, pollution and physical destruction from coastal development and boats threaten the survival of corals. The Great Barrier Reef, the largest and most famous coral reef in the world, has already lost more than half of its living corals since 1995. 

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System off the coast of Mexico, the second largest in the world, suffers from coral bleaching and overfishing. It is also afflicted with stony coral tissue loss disease, also known as white syndrome, which weakens and eventually kills corals. 

Coral nurseries are one line of defence against coral reef decline and a source of hope for the future of corals. At GVI’s base in Puerto Morelos Mexico, marine conservation interns  are helping to reverse the damage through coral nurseries. Here’s why their actions are so important. 


Original photo: “
Coral Reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge” by USFWS Pacific  is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Why are coral reefs so vital?


Did you know that corals are animals, not plants? Coral polyps are the small organisms responsible for building reefs, which form when the corals group together in colonies. Corals have hard carbonate exoskeletons to protect themselves, which give reefs the appearance of rocks. 

Coral reefs are known for the bright and beautiful abundance of marine life they host. A vast number of fishes and other organisms find food and shelter in coral reefs, and use the many nooks and crannies to rear their young in safety. Sea horses, sea turtles, sponges, clams are just a few of the marine species that call coral reefs home. 

As well as providing a rich marine habitat, coral reefs play an important role in protecting coastlines from storms and erosion. They also serve as a food source and provide a source of income for coastal communities through fishing, diving and snorkelling activities. 

Losing coral reefs is a devastating blow for marine species and coastal communities alike. Conserving corals involves action at both global and local levels, from addressing climate change to educating people on how to reduce their impact on reefs, and actively restoring reefs through coral nursery projects via summer internship opportunities



Coral nurseries are essential for protecting the ocean


The sheer number and scale of stressors facing corals worldwide mean it’s unlikely that coral populations will recover without intervention. Coral nurseries are one of the most successful interventions to be tested so far, helping to support corals’ natural processes of reproduction. 

Much like a plant nursery, coral nurseries help to grow young corals. The goal is to transplant the healthy, nursery-reared corals back out into the degraded reef, to bolster existing colonies and help reseed damaged areas after major events. By replenishing decimated reefs, coral nurseries play a role in helping to ensure the ongoing health of the ocean. 

As well as helping to provide a supply of sustainable corals, nurseries provide an environment to recuperate coral fragments that might have been broken off reefs by boats or other human activity. The thousands of coral fragments rolling around the ocean floor would die without being nurtured in a coral nursery.  

Coral fragments are secured into underwater nursery structures that often look like frames or trees, and cared for until they have reached a size where they can be transplanted. 



Volunteering with coral nurseries in Puerto Morelos, Mexico


In Puerto Morelos, Mexico, the GVI team has been establishing coral nurseries to help protect the Mesoamerican reef system. 

The process begins with the placement of the coral nursery structure in the reef. The next step is to collect seeder coral colonies. The small coral colonies are planted in rows, fixed to pipes secured to the anchor structures on the sea bed. 

Interns and volunteers help to monitor the growing corals through frequent dives, checking for signs of disease and measuring growth. 

There is also plenty of activity above the water. Summer internship opportunities focused on coral reef ecology and conservation give you the chance to help take care of the young coral colonies from the coral fragmentation project at least twice a week. The work ranges from doing the coral fragmentation to cleaning the coral colonies and feeding the corals.

The exceptionally beautiful coastline near Puerto Morelos attracts many visitors, which is both an opportunity and a threat. Unplanned mass tourism is one of the biggest dangers to the Mesoamerican Reef system, but educating visitors and people working within the tourism industry could be a way to support conservation – knowledge is a powerful tool. So, GVI’s team at Puerto Morelos provides environmental education and immersive learning opportunities to the tourists and staff at the Secrets The Vine Hotel in Cancun. They have the chance to see the coral reef and nursery, and understand the ecological importance of corals and how we can protect them for future generations.



Discover more coral reef conservation and environmental internships


Corals tend to grow in warm, shallow waters – often off the coast of stunning tropical islands. Summer internship opportunities with GVI are a great way of travelling to unforgettable locations, while contributing to important marine and coral conservation. 

Volunteers and interns can also get involved in coral reef research and rehabilitation at GVI’s base in the dreamy island of Mahe, in Seychelles. The climate change and coral bleaching program is an opportunity to help grow resilient corals in nurseries established in shallow water. Protecting the nurseries and transplanting the larger and more established corals onto a reef is a rewarding part of these environmental internships. 

GVI also has a base in Dawasamu, an idyllic island paradise in Fiji, surrounded by blue water that is home to abundant marine life. More than 40% of all coral species can be found in Fiji. On environmental internships in Dawasamu, you can learn more about coral reef ecology and conservation, while discovering unique underwater ecosystems. 


You can play an active role in protecting coral reefs. Enrol in one of GVI’s coral reef ecology and marine conservation summer internship or volunteer opportunities and help conserve the world’s oceans today.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
what’s up next?
Endangered Species That Have Recovered: Stories of Hope

Discover the inspiring stories of endangered species that have recovered from the brink of extinction. Learn how you can get involved in conservation efforts.

You might also like these articles

The Rising Tide of Marine Plastic Pollution
Read the article
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Marine Biologist?
Read the article
Marine Conservation
Endangered Marine Animals: The Crisis Beneath the Waves
Read the article
Exploring Marine Biology Jobs
Read the article
Marine Biomes: Understanding the Different Types of Ocean Ecosystems
Read the article
The Fastest Marine Mammal: Exploring the Top Contenders
Read the article
How Many Marine Animals Die From Plastic Pollution?
Read the article
Marine Conservation Volunteering: How You Can Make a Difference
Read the article
The Fascinating World of Marine Animals
Read the article