Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

We are back with our spotlight on coral. Pocillopra damicornis is the third principal hard coral that we work with in Costa Rica. Our coral intern Sebastian has created this great article all about it.

Here are some cool coral facts about Pocillopora damicornis!

What is Pocillopora damicornis?

coral restoration costa rica

Pocillopora damicornis is a species of branching stony coral, commonly known as Cauliflower coral. The species is distinguished from other species by having thinner branches and less regular verrucae. While small, regular verrucae exist, most of the protuberances are irregular and are often not true verrucae at all but are more like incipient branches. As a result, Pocillopora damicornis exhibits greater branching than does P. verrucosa. Colonies are usually less than 30 cm tall. Reported growth rates of Pocillopora damicornis vary substantially between locations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, from 1.27 cm per year in Colombia to 3.96 cm per year in Panama.

Pocillopora damicornis occurs at all depths between the surface and 40 m deep or more, and is particularly abundant between 5 to 20 m. It is equally abundant in lagoonal areas and clear water reef slopes. Commonly forms monospecific, densely packed stands many tens of metres across in water 5 -10 m deep.

Restoration Success with Pocillopora damicornis

coral restoration project

We started our coral restoration project with Pocillopora damicornis and Pavona gigantea. Pocillopora is a great candidate for reef restoration, as a branching coral it is easy to harvest from wild coral colonies and it is also relatively easy to micro fragment. Pocillopora has responded well in our coral nurseries with good growth rates in both table nurseries and line nurseries. This coral species has a faster growth rate than the two massive coral species, which means shorter time in the nurseries, and therefore less maintenance and costs.

Geographic Range of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis has a broad range which extends from the pacific coast of the americas america all the way to East Africa and the Red Sea. in the tropical pacific and through to oceania and southeast asia. The range of this coral in panama is it even considered as one of the major reef building species.

coral restoration in costa rica

Feeding methods of Pocillopora damicornis

Cauliflower corals are a filter feeding species that catch plankton and other small organisms from the water column using their hair-like tentacles. 

Sexual Reproduction of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis is a broadcast spawner with the capacity to function as a simultaneous hermaphrodite. Pocillopora damicornis, like other Pocilloporid species in the eastern Pacific, has low rates of recruitment.

Histological evidence indicates that spawning is likely to occur during a few days around the new moon. The reproductive activity in the eastern Pacific is related to local thermal regimes. This then results in a generally higher incidence of coral recruits at sites with stable, warm water conditions. Also during warming periods in areas that experience significant seasonal variation. Pocillopora damicornis is also able to spread asexual due to natural fragmentation, making this coral a good candidate for restoration efforts.

Specific Living Conditions for Pocillopora damicornis

  • temperature: 20 °C -30 °C (optimal is 26 °C )
  • salinity: 34- 38 ‰ 
  • Depth: 0-40 meter
  • Ph: 8,1- 8,4
  • DKH: 8-12
  • Habitat: occurs in all shallow water habitats from exposed reef fronts to mangrove swamps and wharf piles
  • sedimentation, Pocillopora is relatively tolerant as long as there is adequate water motion


We hope you enjoyed the article, thank you to our intern Sebastian Moesbergen for writing it.

If you are interested in joining our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica you can contact us. We run internships, volunteer programs and research opportunities, please contact us here.

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

We are continuing our Spotlight on Coral Series of Blog. This week we look at another or our 3 types of hard coral that we are fragmenting in our coral restoration project at Marine Conservation Costa Rica. So here’s an indepth look at Pavona gigantea…..

What is Pavona gigantea?

Pavona gigantea is known as plate coral or leaf coral. It is a common coral that grows in relatively shallow and protected areas. Pavona has a naturally occurring growth rate of between 9 and 12 mm each year and also grows large plate colonies. They have visible coralites with a width of between 3 and 6 mm. The colonies tend to have a furry appearance due to the extension of their tentacles during the day.

Restoration Success with Pavona gigantea

Fragment of Pavona
restoration of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona gigantea can be relatively easy to harvest and fragment, as it often grows in plate formation. The younger growth to the edge of a plate is often thin and can be easily harvested. The older growth is thicker and extremely dense. The Pavona has responded well to micro fragmentation in our restoration project. Pavona gigantea seems to be reasonably resilient to stress and we have had a low mortality rate.

Geographic Range of Pavona gigantea

Pavona gigantea is found in the pacific ocean, growing along the coast of middle america from Mexico to Ecuador and in the Galapagos and Cocos Islands. In the Mid- Western Pacific, it is found in reefs located in the middle of the ocean. This is around the body of water between Japan and Papua New Guinea.

Feeding methods of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona Gigantea in Costa Rica

Corals consume particulate organic matter and absorb dissolved organic matter. However, their consumption of plankton is limited to zooplankton that is in the 200- 400​ ​μm size range. They use their tentacles to obtain this food. The same as other hard corals, Pavona gigantea depends on receiving most of its energy from it’s symbiotic relationship with the Zooxanthellae. These use photosynthesis to harness energy..

Sexual Reproduction of Pavona Gigantea

Typically Pavona gigantea colonies are gonochoristic, broadcast spawners. This is that there are both male and female colonies releasing eggs into the water column. Spawning takes place at the beginning of the rainy season, normally between May and July. Interestingly, in a few studies of Pavona gigantea, hermaphroditic colonies have also been discovered! This is likely to be an example of sequential cosexuality. It is when corals can begin their reproductive life as males and then become hermaphroditic. It has been suggested that sequential cosexuality is an adaption to guarantee sexual reproduction and increase connectivity among populations.

Specific Living Conditions for Pavona gigantea

Temperature: 18 °C -29 °C
Salinity: 34- 37 parts per thousand
Depth: abundant between:0,5 -20 meters Ph: 8,1
Dissolved oxygen concentration: 4.55 mL/L

Nitrate concentration: 0.831 ​μmol/L Phosphate concentration: 0.357 μmol/L Silicate concentration: 1.776 μmol/L

We hope you learnt something. Thank you Sebastian for the great info and help with this. If you want to learn more about our project you can contact us here or apply to become a volunteer or intern here in Costa rica.

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Intern life in Lockdown

The life of a marine conservation intern is a busy one. With current times our interns are safely back home and helping us from afar. As part of this one of our interns, Sebastian Moesbergen has been researching our coral species here in Costa Rica. Our first one here is Porites lobata.It is one of our 3 types of hard coral that we, at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, are fragmenting in our coral restoration project on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We thought you would be interested in a more in depth look at this interesting coral…so here goes for some cool coral facts!

What is Porites lobata?

Porites Lobata Costa Rica

Porites Lobata is a common reef-building coral that can grow into very large colonies, building large coral reefs throughout its range. This species forms large hemispherical or helmet-shaped structures that can reach several meters across. For this reason, Porites lobata is also known as “Lobe Coral”. Though they appear to be very large, only the outer few millimeters represent living tissue, while the rest is a calcium carbonate skeleton. Porites Lobata structures only grow a few centimeters each year and may be hundreds of years old. Each structure is actually a colony of several genetically identical animals living together. In some areas, several colonies grow together to form a nearly continuous stretch of Porites Lobatas that may be tens of meters (or more) long.

Restoration Success with Porites Lobata

Coral restoration in Costa Rica

We were initially uncertain about using Porites lobata in our restoration project, as it is a notoriously slow growing coral. However, after success with 2 other species of hard coral, we decided that Porites was the obvious choice to expand our project. It is one of the dominant massive corals in our region, along with Pavona gigantea. We initially tested fragmenting Porites lobata on a small scale. Only micro fragmenting 40 new fragments that went into 2 nurseries as 2 different locations. Initially, there was little growth in either nursery, but after 2 months we had significant growth. After 3 months most fragments were at least doubled if not tripled in size. In the last 6 months we have expanded our Porites lobata nurseries and look forward to outplanting Porties lobata back onto our reefs in Costa Rica.


Geographic Range of Porites lobata 

Porites lobata has a huge geographic range throughout tropical and subtropical regions. Porites Lobata can be found from East Africa, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. They can be found all the way through Indonesia and Australian waters to the Pacific coasts of California and Central America.


Feeding methods of Porites lobata

Many corals can function as carnivores, using their tentacles to capture small planktonic animals drifting over the reef. Special stinging cells that line the surfaces of the polyps’ tentacles entangle and paralyze their prey. Other corals are suspension feeders. They use hair-like structures called cilia to collect particles of organic matter that drift down from above. The polyps of Porites lobata  are so small that researchers question if they are actually capable of capturing prey.

Luckily, corals also act as primary producers. Single-celled algae called zooxanthellae live within the tissues of reef-building corals in a symbiotic relationship. Using sunlight and nutrients from the water and their coral hosts, zooxanthellae generate energy-rich compounds through photosynthesis. These carbon-rich products may be particularly important in the energy budget of Porites lobata.

Sexual Reproduction of Porites lobata.

Coral restoration project costa rica

Unlike many species of corals, Porites lobata colonies are gonochoristic. This means they are either male or female, not both. They reproduce via broadcast spawning. This is where several individuals release their eggs or sperm into the water column at the same time. This method increases the likelihood that eggs become fertilized and reduces the danger from egg predators near the reef surface. Within a few days after the eggs hatch, larvae settle onto the reef surface and begin to form new colonies.


Specific Living Conditions for Porite lobata some scientific data for you…

Temperature range that the corals like is between 18 °C and 30 °C , for example, if the water temperature is higher than 30°C the coral starts bleaching). The Salinity ideal is between: 34 and 38 % and depth range between 0 and 30 meters. Ideal Ph is between 8,4 -7,7. They have an oxygen demand of 0,21 (μmol L−1 h−1) and a bacterial cell yield of  0,06 – 0,10( cells × 105 mL−1 h−1).


Want to become part of our team?

Want to join our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica in the future to do a coral internship? Please contact us at info@marineconservationcostarica.org

Written by Sebastian Moesbergen

6 things to reduce your ocean impact – even if you’re miles away from the blue

6 things to reduce your ocean impact – even if you’re miles away from the blue

What does it take to save an ocean?

Scientists will hand you their most scholarly answers based off of their scientific research and try to explain it in a very complex way. But, when it comes down to it, the answer is simply us collectively acknowledging our environmental impact and agreeing to change. The keyword in any environmental discussion these days is change. But how? The change takes you and it takes me. Whether you are based off the coastline or thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean, you matter.

Living in a landlocked state

Growing up in a landlocked state, conversations involving ocean depletion were not all too common. It wasn’t until I moved to a beach town that I was truly introduced to the issues concerning the health of the ocean. And really, the overall planet. Now, as a college graduate with a degree in Marine Environmental Science, I am surrounded and almost engulfed by the global issues. It makes me wonder how I didn’t know about all of this before. I recently asked those in my life that aren’t surrounded by a body of water. They don’t have lives dedicated to environmental studies, so what were their views on ocean related topics and their involvement. It blew my mind that the majority of the answers I received, were that they believed their actions did not have any effect on the ocean.

To be honest, growing up, my first thought when I got in the car or bought a single use plastic bottle wasn’t that I was affecting the ocean. It wasn’t until I was educated on human’s impacts that I realized we are all truly connected and dependent. Now that I am aware, I can’t turn back. I will educate others on the dramatic effects we as humans have on the matter and what we can do to change it no matter where we are.

Here are a few ways you can help the ocean whether you are near it or not:

Change your carbon footprint

walk to work

To reduce your ocean impact you can ride the bus or use public transportation. Why not use a bike or walk: The atmosphere is warming at an alarming rate due to our carbon footprint. The ocean collects the heat and without the ocean, we would be in huge trouble. The collected heat then causes marine life (especially coral) to suffer. Your personal decision to limit the amount of energy contributes to the overall effort to stop climate change.

Support environmental organizations or organizations that support environmental movements:

If you are not near an ocean, donations are greatly appreciated as well as purchasing environmentally safe products that support good causes. Nonprofit organizations are incredible and your contribution, no matter how big or small, matters. Financial contributions are a great way to feel involved and connected.

Coral restoration in Costa Rica

Where does your food come from?

Know where your food is coming from: check the labels and restaurants. Are they getting their seafood from a sustainable resource? Much of the ocean’s threat is a result from overfishing and fishing through unacceptable practices including long lining which ultimately kills bycatch such as sea turtles and sharks.

Plastic, plastic, plastic

Plastic after a dive againest debris

Reduce your use of plastic: Plastic and microplastic are two contributors to the destruction of our oceans and its marine life. Rivers and storm drains carry an enormous amount of trash into the ocean which ends up ingested by fish and much more. To cut back on the amount of plastic used, start carrying a recycled grocery bag to the store instead of using several plastic bags from your items. Use a reusable water bottle instead of single use plastic water bottles that come in plastic packaging. Bring your own to-go containers instead of the boxes they hand you at restaurants. Ultimately, become aware. Start noticing the amount of plastic that is so commonly used and get creative to come up with ways to reuse.

Use your voice

Vote to reduce your ocean impact: Vote on ocean related issues. You have a voice and your opinion matters. Voting and signing petitions grabs the attention of those who are able to actively do greater things for our planet. Use your power to take a stand and join the effort.

Keep yourself informed

Stay educated: You can reduce your ocean impact if you educate yourself on global and local environmental issues. The planet is connected and your local environment matters globally. Discuss these issues with friends or family and get involved. Watch documentaries and read the articles. Scientists and divers are out in the water seeing it with their own eyes and they have a lot to say. Listen. Being aware and acknowledging the issue will inspire others to get involved as well.

One of my favorite scientists and ocean explorers Dr. Sylvia Earle once said “No water, no life. No blue, no green”.

Kaitlyn Loucks – MCCR writer

What is coral bleaching? Why does it happen?

What is coral bleaching? Why does it happen?

coral bleaching
 Image credit: Wikipedia via CC license

Coral bleaching, the phenomenon, the event that has brought scientists from all around the world together to discuss a single question- what is happening to our coral? Climate change skeptics and environmental downfall contributors have no other option than to acknowledge the reality of this current mass global issue.

An event that has been trending and turning heads from all over, even reaching world news. It has made its way to fame and has quickly gotten the attention of the human race- but do you really know what coral bleaching is?

So what is coral?

Looking at coral from its outward appearance, it can be disguised as a simple being that has no other purpose than for fish to inhabit and feed on. Some even mimic a rock substance. It is only when you look within that you realize that it is not a simple being at all.

bleached coral

Coral colonies are made up of tiny, yet extraordinary polyps that resemble sea anemones. An algae called Zooxanthellae, or Zoox,  benefits the coral by living inside the polyps and photosynthesizing. This provides the necessary nutrition a coral needs to be able to be, well, coral.

Benefits of coral

Scientists are fascinated with the advantages that coral provides. In reality, these ancient and complex animals are what millions depend on for their survival. Some benefits of the reef include protection from tropical storms and waves. Also tourism, food, habitat and protection for many marine species, and even medicine. Imagine what would happen if we were to lose all of this due to the recklessness of our own generation? Well, the truth is that we already are on our way to doing so.

Our environment is sufferering

When you take a step back from the normality that our society has been convinced is sufficient and ideal, you will be shocked. As humans we have developed this hunger for more. We can’t get enough whether its money, power, food, clothes, etc. Then we are basing these needs off the idea that we will never run out, thus mass producing. It is only when we wake up from this false mentality that we can see what we are doing to our planet. The environment has been silently suffering from our carelessness for a long time. But it is finally grabbing our attention through natural disasters such coral bleaching. 

a bleached coral reef
Coral bleaching at Molokini Crater

Our carbon pollution is affecting our climate worldwide, especially our oceans. With life as fragile as coral, the rising temperature of only a few degrees can dramatically alter their ability to function. This can almost certainly lead to fatality, or otherwise known as bleaching. Car pollution, factory pollution, mining and burning of coal, and other destructive actions of man are collectively working together to kill coral reefs by stressing them out.

Like humans who react to fevers, the coral reacts to heat by expelling the zooxanthellae. The disruption of the zoox and coral relationship causes the coral to starve. This is due to the lack of nutrients obtained through photosynthesis. They then turn the color white we so famously see, giving it the name “bleaching”. Although most believe that a coral is dead once it has turned this holy white, it is actually still alive. It has the potential to recover. It is only once the tissue is extracted and rotting from the coral that it is officially too late. 

Other factors like overfishing, pollution, and sunscreen, work as a team to cause coral bleaching on our coral reefs. If we continue to go down this wasteful and harmful path, we will only increase the severity of coral bleaching. A species that has survived for centuries is now depleting in only a few years due to the intensity of our ways. It can take decades for a reef to recover and less than a decade to destroy it. If we continue our mass burning of fossil fuels and increase our carbon pollution in the atmosphere, these severe bleaching events will continue annually. Coral is vital to life on Earth and the mass bleaching events are a cry for help. It is now up to us to ensure that the coral reefs are not gone for good.

So what can you do?

A few ways to help save our reefs and our planet:

Transportation (biking, walking, bus)

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Speak Up

Reduce Runoff in our oceans

Eat sustainably

Keep feet/fins off of the reef 

Meet team member JD

Meet team member JD

JD marine biologist costa rica

With the business of the holiday season behind us now, we here at Marine Conservation Costa Rica have hit the ground running as we dive into 2020 with plenty of plans to continue our coral restoration work. One of the biggest shifts that we have seen as we enter this new year is our overall increase in both intern and volunteer activity. Especially with the addition of our newest staff member, JD.

This “crazy coral kid” will be working with us through September and has already brought a bunch of new ideas and positive changes to our organization. We decided to sit down with JD the other day to catch up with him and learn a bit more about his background with marine science/coral conservation. 

Happy underwater with the coral

Hi JD!

“Growing up I was always obsessed with the ocean. The running joke with the family is that if a trip wasn’t close to the beach or didn’t have an aquarium that I could visit, I didn’t want to go and would make it extremely well-known. I always thought corals were cool but never really took the time to appreciate them.

In fact, it wasn’t until a travel course to Belize that focused on coral biology during my junior year of college where I actually realized how truly fascinating these tiny animals are and the numerous roles they place for both us as human beings as well as the countless marine animals we all love so much. Everyone was excited to swim with sharks, rays, and turtles while I was too busy focusing on getting up close and personal with every single polyp that called the waters of Ambergris Caye their home.

As tacky as it sounds, every time I dive and get to see healthy coral in its natural habitat I get this feeling of pure happiness, almost like I’m a kid again walking into an aquarium and falling in love with the ocean for the very first time. I really want to make sure everyone has the chance to experience that too.’’

– JD Reinbott

Q: What is your background with marine science/coral biology? 

cutting coral with marine conservation costa rica

I studied Marine Science as well as Aquaculture/Aquarium Science at the University of New England in Biddeford, ME and to be totally honest bounced around within the field itself. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to focus on post graduation and was scared to make the wrong choice. It wasn’t until I randomly enrolled in a coral biology course with a field work trip to Belize where I quickly fell head over heels for coral and realized this is where I belong.

Shortly after the trip I became a certified diver and found myself traveling down to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve where I lived on a remote dive base for two months. During that time I collected metrics on things like coral population abundance, disease, bleaching, predation and overall reef composition.

This only furthered my passion for reef systems and made me want to learn more. Fast forward a year and I was now an intern at the Coral Restoration Foundation, the world’s largest coral restoration non-profit organization.

During my time I learned the various methods used to cultivate acroporid corals via in-situ nurseries and worked alongside the heads of both the restoration and science departments. It’s pretty cool to be able to say that I returned over 1,500 coral fragments back to the Florida Reef Tract during my time with CRF. Soon after I heard about the chance to move to Costa Rica and just like that I’m here! 

Q: What is your role with MCCR? 

I love coral

I would say that my primary role is to help Kat and Geo continue all the work that we are currently doing (growing coral, nursery maintenance, public outreach, underwater cleanups, etc). Also playing around with a bunch of new ideas to further expand our programs. With MCCR being so new, there is a lot of wiggle room within the organization itself. This subsequently means that no day is the same. Sometimes I’m on land figuring out new ways to compile all of our data and microfragging corals. Other days I’m building new nursery structures and creating new educational presentations.

When I throw on a BCD and a pair of fins it’s a bit of a different story. Water days can consist of anything from harvesting coral to installing new structures to scoping out new nursery locations. It could also be performing benthic reef surveys. If there is ever a day someone finds me without a coral frag in my hand, it’s probably a day where I’m working as an instructor with Oceans Unlimited Scuba Diving & Go Pro Costa Rica. The Pura Vida lifestyle has been a bit of an adjustment with just a few things to do but I love every moment of it. 

Q: What are you most excited about? 

Honestly just to get the chance to watch this new organization develop further and to also bring all of my previous coral restoration knowledge and experience to help with such expansion. Getting to look back at everything that we have accomplished a year from now is going to be such an amazing experience and I cannot wait to see what is to come. Also getting to dive in a new ocean and work with new species of coral sounds pretty cool too. 

Q: What is your favorite marine animal? 

For anyone who knows me, this answer is a given. 110% an octopus. They are literally the strangest creatures that I have ever seen underwater and yet also the most unique and eye-catching (that is if you are lucky enough to spot them). Every single time I see one underwater, I audibly scream out of pure joy. I will only continue to swim when my dive buddy comes over and begrudgingly drags me away (literally ask anyone who has ever gone diving with me if you don’t believe me).

scuba diving in costa rica

I would honestly just love to see what happens on a day to day basis within their lives, but also the one thing that always gets me is the fact that they HAVE EIGHT ARMS. LIKE COME ON HOW COOL IS THAT YOU COULD EAT AN ENTIRE PIZZA AT ONCE.