Atlantic Coral Grown In Lab For The First Time Offers Hope To Save Wild Reefs

Coral conservationists at the Aquarium successfully spawned pillar coral for the in a lab , a breakthrough that could save species and reefs from extinction.

of corals is a notoriously finicky process and can occur both asexually, when clonal polyps off of existing ones, and sexually. Many sexual corals are broadcast spawners, which means that corals produce many and gametes to eventually release enormous clouds of sperm and eggs into the column, according to NOAA. The conditions for such a massive synchronized event have to occur under just the right circumstances, and scientists are still uncertain of the variables but believe most have to do with temperature, day , and perhaps even cycles – conditions that have made sexual in the lab exceedingly difficult.

As part of Project Coral, scientists at the aquarium’s Center for Conservation in Apollo Beach were able to induce spawning in captive corals using innovative . Coral experts mimicked the natural of corals by manipulating the lighting of their habitat, including reproducing the timing of the rising and setting of and Moon.

Apollo Beach
A coral spawning event can result in the release of millions of eggs and sperm into the water column. Florida Aquarium

“The massive and fully synchronized spawning at The Florida Aquarium’s Center for , which occurred exactly at the predicted wild spawning time, indicated perfect aquatic conditions for pillar corals in our Project Coral system,” said Senior Coral Keri O’Neil. “When have husbandry, water quality, and all of the right cues, this is what you can do, you can change the for coral .”

Coral conservationists say their help inform and save corals around the , including the endangered Florida Reef Tract, a national marine sanctuary located in the Florida Keys. Measuring 2,800 nautical , this diverse area of coral is experiencing a multi-year, -related mortality event that has affected as many as 25 coral species, including those listed under the , that have shown tissue loss lesions, reports the .

Florida Aquarium says their program will offer a “ start” for corals, allowing staff to raise juveniles enough in captivity before repopulating them in reef systems that offer a better of survival.

“When is made, is hope, and today’s scientific breakthrough by The Florida Aquarium’s of coral experts gives us real hope that we can save the Florida Reef Tract from extinction,” said Roger Germann, Florida Aquarium , in a statement. “And, while many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done, we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome. We remain fiercely committed to saving ’s only barrier reef and will work even harder to protect and restore our Blue .”

The team first managed to artificially induce a spawn in 2013 and have since spawned 18 species of Pacific corals, but spawns for Atlantic were a challenge up until now, said the aquarium in a blog post

Association of Zoos & Aquariums
Project Coral hosts four tanks each measuring 2.4 meters (8 feet) long that are to around 15 corals. Florida Aquarium

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