Transplanting Corals





Introduction: Transplanting Corals

About: Socio-ecological artist with a background in Design and metalsmithing. Based in New York City and Mexico.

In 2004 I learned how to transplant homeless coral fragments found on the seafloor onto life-supporting, artificial reefs. The photo above was taken in Bali. As you see these are quite large pieces of coral collected with many biologists and ocean lovers, like Tessa Divina pictured, focused on methods for reviving biodiversity in areas that had been devastated by dynamite and cyanide fishing, climate change, pollution, and disease.

I'm going to describe how to easily attach much smaller fragments onto human-made reefs without harming them. This is useful for ocean and tank experiments. In another Instructable I will share more about the coral cultivation method I'm exploring, known as mineral accretion, electrolytic (or electrified) reefs, and recognized as offshoots of Biorock and Seacrete. A totally fascinating amalgamation of chemistry, biology, ecology, art, electronics, and interdisciplinary innovation.

Step 1: Collecting

  • Learn to dive. Hopefully you are SCUBA certified, but if not, I only got certified once I was compelled to make habitat for corals, so maybe now it's your time.


  • Plastic container to put your coral frags into as you carefully scope the seafloor. This can be almost anything recycled, from laundry baskets to cut-off water bottles. Depending on your diving level, make it easy for yourself to hold onto - think about if you need a handle or cord to grab so it doesn't float away. If there is current, all the more reason to have a handle, not necessarily as fancy as the photo above I found on pinterest but this kind of container works well.
  • Bring Small clear/white zip ties along with you (1 for each coral - gauge the size to the corals you will be collecting). Stashing them in your wetsuit cuff is great easy access out of the way place.
  • Pair of small cross cutters, snippers to trim the tails. At the end if you trim all at once, easy to keep together and take bits back to shore with you so they don't float away and add more pollution.
  • You are looking for small lonely corals peeking from the sand that move EASILY when gently nudged with one finger. If they seem fixed at all, let them lie because they might be cementing onto a rock or onto a piece of dead, buried coral you can't see. Also, you want pieces that are still ALIVE, at least partially, which means they are not completely white. Dry white means bleached and dead. Sometimes a fragment has some part white yet still some color. This is a great opportunity to transplant it and see how the life support works to revive it.

Step 2: Transplanting

Now that you have a pail of corals, you can pull out your zip ties and begin to populate your reef making sure not to squeeze or smash them in the process. Many of them are already suffering from lack of nourishment and disease, so we can hope they will find the calcifying substrate a suitable place to take hold and begin to colonize. Sometimes the corals can be placed snugly into a space in the structure and no need to attach with a zip tie.

These are images from one of our first days adding fragments to Zoe, a Living Sea Sculpture.

Step 3: Attaching Step by Step

Now that you've seen the overview scenario in the ocean, here I will show you with some coral skeletons so it's more clear visually what we're doing.

  • You thread the zip tie around the artificial reef form. Here using steel EMM (expanded metal mesh).
  • Pull to secure.
  • Snip with your snips.

Done. Now take photos so you can document how your polyps grow over time.

Step 4: After 6 Years in Bali

And take videos!

Good luck cultivating corals!

Colleen Flanigan

Living Sea Sculpture




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    11 Discussions

    That is so awesome! would love to help when I retire. keep up the beautiful work!

    Thanks everyone! For your positive comments. I hope to work on more reef collaborations soon and share more processes here so more people can find ways to join in if they like.

    I love it! Thanks for helping our dying coral reefs.

    I've been around the world diving and I've always wanted to help out with transplanting coral but have never had the opportunity. This makes me want to do it that much more. Great instructable!

    This made my day. Thank you for sharing this with us and for helping our planet.

    Thank you for saving the planet!

    Would the transplants survive better with a biorock installation? From what I understand, it would mean putting a low voltage current through the rebar.

    1 reply

    Sorry, I see that the sculpture is a biorock installation...nice!

    It's such a weirdly interesting thing: coral transplants!

    Very interesting. Thank you for your help with restoring our oceans' vast ecosystems.

    What an awesome project! Thank you for doing this :) The reefs where we used to live in Okinawa have had some trouble because of temperature changes and starfish infestations. These type of conservation efforts are wonderful!