Coral reefs hold 25% of the ocean’s biodiversity and cover only 1% of the ocean floor, but thanks to climate change and unsustainable practices, these coral populations are quickly disappearing. 

Luckily, sustainable practices such as coral farming have been implemented to combat the destruction of these valuable habitats.

Coral farming involves the creation of an underwater nursery where coral fragments are propagated on artificial structures before being transported to degraded reefs. Coral farming aims at rehabilitating these degraded areas.

With unsustainable fishing practices, global warming leading to coral bleaching, negligent tourism, and a lack of education, these ocean animals need all the help they can get. 

Let’s take a look at how sustainable coral farming is making a difference.

What Is Coral Farming?

Coral reef farming aims at addressing the quickly declining coral reef population in our oceans by cultivating and propagating coral colonies in controlled environments.

This is usually done in protected areas in bays and coral reefs; however, coral can also be removed to be propagated in land-based tanks.

Coral farming can be done in the ocean or on land in tanks
Coral farming can be done in the ocean or on land in tanks

Referred to as coral aquaculture, or coral gardening, these underwater farms serve as nurseries to a variety of coral species and provide a means to restore reefs, as well as provide a sustainable solution for aquarium keepers and hobbyists.

How Does Coral Farming Work?

Coral farming, as with most gardening, can be conducted with a variety of strategies. However, the process remains much the same, and it is just the small intricacies that change.

Nursery Construction

Building a secure structure in a controlled environment is the first thing needed when starting a coral farm. It’s essential to keep the nursery safe from strong currents, tourists, and drastically changing water conditions, such as temperature or salinity.

Coral farms can be created using PVC, concrete, or metal cages and frames
Coral farms can be created using PVC, concrete, or metal cages and frames

The structure can be made of a variety of materials but will need to provide space for the coral to attach, as well as space for the colonies to grow.

PVC structures, glass bottles, cages, concrete structures, and specialized tanks are a few examples of what can be used to create the foundation of a coral farm or artificial reef.

Collection Of Larvae and Coral Fragments

Coral fragments or free-floating larvae are collected from healthy reefs and transported to the coral nursery. 

Fragments are most commonly used as they have a higher success rate. Furthermore, it’s essential to use fragments that have already been dislodged from their mother colony to prevent further destruction to the reef.

It’s also important to note that conditions for coral to flourish are very specific, especially between species. This means you will want to use fragments from a similar habitat to that in which you have created your nursery.

Fragments of coral are placed on the coral farm structure in a protected area
Fragments of coral are placed on the coral farm structure in a protected area

Once fragments have been collected, they can be attached to the farm structure utilizing cable ties, rubberbands, wire, tubes, specialized adhesives, or any other method you find feasible yet environmentally safe.

Maintenance and Care

Coral gardens need to be closely monitored, especially in the early days of propagation. Parameters such as water temperatures, salinity, pH levels, and nutrient levels, along with water flow and lighting conditions, are monitored to ensure the coral has the best chance to thrive.

Once the colony takes hold and begins to expand, less care is needed; however, because coral is extremely sensitive to its surrounding environmental conditions, a close eye is always kept on these carefully-tended nurseries.

Transplantation and Sale

Once the colonies of the farms have grown to a sustainable size and are considered healthy from transplantation, they are removed and either planted in another location or sold to aquariums and hobbyists for recreational use or educational purposes.

Coral that is intended for reef restoration is transported to a viable location (often where the fragments were sourced) and then replanted.

Transported coral colonies are closely monitored to ensure they take hold and survive in their new community.

This process allows for both the restoration of degrading reefs, as well as the reduction in illegal or unsustainable coral harvesting.

The Importance Of Sustainable Coral Farms

The use of sustainable coral farms is invaluable to us, both from an environmental front, as well as an economic standpoint. 

Some of the major areas coral farming aims at addressing include the following:

Environmental Importance Of Coral Reef Farming

  1. Reef Restoration: Coral farms play a vital role in coral restoration and reef sustainability by providing a renewable source of corals that can be transplanted. This helps reestablish reefs before their degradation reaches a point of no return.
  2. Reducing Natural Reef Harvesting: By creating an alternative source of coral, the harvesting of natural coral reefs has drastically decreased. This takes pressure away from the slow-growing reefs, thus allowing them to recover and thrive.
  3. Resilience and Genetic Diversity: Coral farming provides an opportunity to cultivate highly resilient coral species. Coral resilience increases its survivability, especially in highly threatened areas. Furthermore, farms allow for the conservation of threatened species and the ability to expand an area’s gene pool.
  4. Research and Education: Coral farms offer unique insights into the growth and behavior of corals. This makes coral nurseries a hotspot for research in the field, thanks to their controlled environment. These studies help educate the general population, as well as help researchers understand the intricacies that are involved in a coral’s life cycle. 
Coral farms and transplanted colonies are closely monitored to ensure they thrive
Coral farms and transplanted colonies are closely monitored to ensure they thrive

Economic Importance Of Coral Reef Farming

  1. Coral Trade: The harvesting of coral from natural reefs has led to mass destruction in areas around the world. Coral farming has addressed this issue by providing a sustainable and renewable alternative to industries such as aquariums. The sales from these farms generate revenue for communities and small conservation projects.
  2. Tourism Industry: Coral farms and artificial reefs are great attractors for tourists, particularly those who enjoy the underwater world, such as SCUBA divers. These projects are innovative and encourage visitors in areas that are otherwise forgotten, which in turn brings revenue into smaller communities.
  3. Coastal Livelihoods: A large diversity of fish and plant life comes with coral reefs. Coral farms help sustain ecosystems with falling natural resources. This aid helps to sustain fish populations and encourages the introduction of new species along coastlines — a greater coastal diversity results in richer coastal communities, particularly those heavily reliant on fishing.


How long does it take coral to grow on a coral farm?

The growth rate of coral depends on a variety of factors, including species, water conditions, and specific farming practices. Coral in farms can take months to several years before transplantation is possible.

What are the biggest challenges involved with coral farming?

Disease outbreaks, predation by pests, temperature fluctuations, water quality issues, and genetic limitations are among the most common difficulties faced with coral reef restoration. Furthermore, constant research, a commitment to sustainability, and contribution from local communities create an ongoing challenge.

Can anyone start a coral farm?

Coral farming is regulated differently in different regions, and it’s important to check up on local laws before proceeding, but in theory, anyone can start a coral nursery. That said, it’s important to have the required knowledge, experience, resources and permits before you or your organization begins.

What species are used in coral farming?

The coral used in farms depends on the region as well as the purpose of the farm. However, a few commonly cultivated coral species include staghorn corals, plate corals, finger corals, and torch corals.

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