Researchers were able to reproduce a group coral in two days for the first time in a lab setting. Image - Coral spawning in a lab. (image credit: The Florida Aquarium)

 

Things are looking grim for America’s Great Barrier Reef. The third-largest coral reef in the world is on the verge of extinction, but a new scientific breakthrough may help save the reef. Researchers at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay have successfully reproduced a group of coral two days in a row for the first time 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.”

 

To get to this point, the team began researching back in 2014 with Staghorn coral. This was later shifted to pillar coral because of the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease affecting the Florida Reef Tract, which makes them nearly extinct. Keri O’Neill, one of the aquarium’s coral experts, says they may have had their last wild spawning of pillar coral this year due to the disease. But this new breakthrough gives them hope to help repopulate in the lab.

 

So what exactly did they do? The coral greenhouse uses advanced LED technology and computer-control systems to imitate the natural environment of the coral, such as light produced by sunrises and sunsets, to subtly tell the corals to reproduce. The young coral will continue to grow in the lab until they’re strong enough to be placed in the wild. 

 

The system was initially set up just to see if it could work, and many experts were doubtful of its success. The result is part of “Project Coral,” a program that aims to help repopulate the Florida Reef Tract. The program works in partnership with London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens to create coral spawn or large egg deposits, in a lab.

 

What’s next? The team will continue researching the project and plan to build more greenhouses to allow the aquarium and the team to keep working on building a better environment for the wildlife. They’re also looking to develop the technology for other coral species. And things are looking hopeful. Germann says, “The future of the Florida Reef tract just got a lot brighter.”

 

“Project Coral is ‘game-changing,’ said Scott Graves, Director of The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation, “allowing us to spawn corals on-site, create multiple spawning events across the year and drastically speed up restoration work to ensure the survival of Florida’s reef.”

 

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