Florida and its unique ecosystems have a lot more to offer than fence-jumping alligators and vomiting vultures — which is why marine scientists hope to rebuild the coral so vital to ocean health.
Now, researchers at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa say they’ve taken a huge step forward — by spawning, for the first time in history, delicate Atlantic coral in a lab setting.
“While many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done,” said Roger Germann, Florida Aquarium president and CEO, in a statement, “we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome.”
Aided by researchers from London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens, Project Coral began in 2014. Scientists focused primarily on the near-extinct pillar coral, which has been devastated by stony coral tissue loss disease.
“It’s quite possible that we just had our last wild spawning of pillar coral this year,” Keri O’Neill, a coral expert at the aquarium, tells CNN. “But with the success of this project, as a scientist, I now know that every year for the foreseeable future, we can spawn Florida pillar corals in the laboratory and continue our work trying to rebuild the population.”
The aquarium’s coral conservation team says their coral “greenhouses” use LED technology to mimic the light produced by sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets — all of which play a crucial role in coral reproduction. Juvenile coral will continue to grow in the lab until they’re deemed strong enough to be placed in the wild.
Researchers are looking forward to building more greenhouses for spawning and developing the technology for other coral species.
Concluded Germann, “The future of the Florida Reef tract just got a lot brighter.”
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