TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of corals raised at the Florida Aquarium have been planted at a site near Long Key.

A total of 560 corals of four different species were relocated to an offshore reef site.

The species include three types of brain coral and spiny flower coral. All were bred and raised at the aquarium’s Center for Conservation.

“We spent three days at the site under near perfect conditions,” said Rachel Serafin, senior coral biologist. “With incredible weather and fantastic underwater visibility, we were able to find an ideal site on Tennessee Reef, which we nicknamed ‘Squid Row’ for the reef squid we found there!”

All coral are offspring of parent colonies and were collected as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project, led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries.

The corals were collected when they were 20 to 24 months old, raised from larvae produced during aquarium spawning events.

Dive teams used tiles to plant the corals.

The aquarium is working to also determine “whether planting closely related coral offspring grown in a land-based, lab setting in close proximity to one another will be beneficial or harmful to their survival and growth, according to a press release.

“The ultimate objective of this study is to maximize and record the amount of total coral cover,” said Brian Reckenbeil, The Florida Aquarium’s coral restoration manager and co-lead for this trip. “Corals will be monitored one day post and two weeks post outplanting and subsequently every six months for two and half years. Coral attributes that may be measured in the field include fate, size, percent of survival, percent of bleaching and reason of new mortality.

“After 24 hours, the corals were stable and had great color,” said Serafin. “It was exciting to see the spiny flower coral returned to the reef for the first time.” 

Activities were conducted under permit in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.