Marine biologists from several organizations are gathering in the Florida Keys next week for the annual spawning of endangered stony corals — important reef-building species — on the Florida Reef Tract.
This multi-agency collaborative effort will result in the creation of healthier, robust and genetically diverse new corals.
The Florida Aquarium is leading a team from Keys Marine Lab, University of South Florida/Florida Institute of Oceanography, Georgia Aquarium, Nova Southeastern University, NOAA, SeaWorld, Southeast Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC), and the University of Florida.
Coral Restoration Foundation™ is providing scientists with access to corals from our offshore Coral Tree nursery to conduct this vital research and conservation work aimed at restoring Florida’s disappearing coral reefs.
Next week, corals grown by Coral Restoration Foundation™ will be the focus of a crucial collaborative effort to help save our rapidly disappearing coral reefs.
Corals reproduce sexually by “spawning” – the synchronized release of sperm and eggs (gametes) into the water column. These gametes will then hopefully meet to fertilize gametes of other corals and create new coral.
Stony corals typically only do this one time per year, after the August full moon. In Florida, coral populations are so sparse and far apart that when spawning occurs, eggs and sperm from individual corals and neighboring reefs have a little to no chance of meeting to produce more coral. Due to these challenges, coral reef reproduction through the natural process in the wild has come to a halt on most of Florida’s coral reefs.
Coral reef restoration groups, like Coral Restoration Foundation™, are working to prevent the collapse of this ecosystem. A critical component of the work we are doing is returning genetic diversity to wild coral populations that will hopefully be more robust and less susceptible to climate change, human-caused challenges and natural occurrences, such as hurricanes.
As a result, we have now “banked” more than 300 different coral genotypes across 11 species in our massive offshore Coral Tree nurseries. These nurseries are oases of genetically diverse corals, offering a unique resource for scientists around the world to conduct research and coral reef conservation projects.
Next week, large colonies of 12 different genetic strains of staghorn coral, and six different genotypes of elkhorn coral will be transferred from our largest Coral Tree nursery and moved to holding systems at the Keys Marine Laboratory in Long Key. In this controlled setting, researchers will be able to monitor the corals closely, and, as soon as the corals start to spawn (triggered by lunar phases), scientists will collect their gametes.
After spawning occurs, the larvae will be transferred to The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation in Apollo Beach where the corals will be raised. Last year, The Florida Aquarium used coral gametes collected from Coral Restoration Foundation’s™ underwater coral tree nursery and created 1,500 new genotypes by cross-breeding different corals. After raising the coral larvae for eight months, more than 3,000 new coral colonies were returned to the Coral Restoration Foundation™ Tavernier Coral Tree nursery, where they have been thriving for the last four months.
Amelia Moura, Coral Restoration Foundation™ Science Program Manager, stresses the importance of this effort, “Genetic diversity in coral populations is critical to healthy reef ecosystems. Genetic diversity is the foundation of evolution, adaptation, and resilience. These traits are especially critical with marine ecosystems bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. This collaboration will allow us to boost the genetic diversity of wild coral populations, giving them a better chance of surviving into the future.”
For more information, please contact Alice Grainger at firstname.lastname@example.org