Iberostar Coral lab

Iberostar Group opens land-based coral lab in Caribbean

Iberostar Group has opened a new land-based coral lab in the heart of the Caribbean.

The lab, officially opened on June 8 for World Oceans Day, was created to help protect ocean life from rising global temperatures in the future — and defend against a new fast-moving coral pandemic today.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) that resulted in bleached-out coral bones from Central Florida, where it first appeared in 2014 and spread to Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and now the Dominican Republic in March has been a wake-up call.

Dr. Megan Morikawa, the hotel group's director of sustainability, who is a marine biologist with a PhD in coral restoration, saw this underwater white plague coming as she and her team hatched plans for the new coral lab in the Dominican Republic.

Acting swiftly, people from the scientific community, Iberostar, the Dominican government, NGOs and others finished the lab in a year, just as the coral disease started infecting local reefs — eight months sooner than expected.

“We didn’t realise it when we started the project, but we were building Noah’s Ark for coral,” says Dr. Morikawa.

The coral lab initially houses 10 species — 180 individual corals (most facilities only contain a few species). Built in the footprint of a former yoga palapa, the center operates under rigorous scientific standards but is open to visitors, including children in Iberostar’s Star Camp entertainment program.

Morikawa adds: "This is much-needed science in an unexpected location. Corals represent just 1% of the world’s surface but hold about a third of the world’s biological diversity."

The lab is the latest effort in the hotel group' s Wave of Change movement, a three-pronged approach to protecting oceans and encouraging responsible tourism.

Gloria Fluxa, vice chairman and chief sustainability officer for the hotel group, says: “As a family business who has been part of the community in the Dominican Republic for more than 25 years, we are establishing a tourism model that is more responsible and allows for a better legacy for the future generations of this country. We have to acknowledge this responsibility and keep taking bold steps.”

The onshore lab will serve as a haven for threatened Caribbean coral. It is a genetic bank, protected from increasingly destructive hurricanes offshore where most reef farms live. Plus, it pulls saltwater from wells, not the ocean, making it safe from fast-moving, broad reaching coral diseases such as SCTLD.

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