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Scientists Make ‘Massive Breakthrough’ In Fight To Save Coral Reefs Threatened By Climate Change

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Coral reefs are a vital part of ocean ecosystems and they are increasingly threatened by climate change and disease.

The reefs are created by colonies of corals that secrete calcium carbonate which, over time, builds up into huge underwater structures that are home to an incredible diversity of life and protect coastlines from flooding and erosion.

What plenty of people don’t realize is that corals are not plants – they’re animals. And getting them to reproduce in a lab is a feat that has largely eluded scientists, until now.  In a major breakthrough scientists at the Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach have successfully gotten Atlantic coral to spawn in a lab setting, lending hope to future repopulation efforts. (This had previously only been achieved with Pacific coral.)

To encourage the corals to spawn scientists had to mimic the exact conditions that would trigger the response in the wild. They did so by carefully manipulating the water temperature and currents of the corals tank, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

“Scientists used computer-controlled lighting and manipulated water temperatures and flow to fool the pillar coral into believing it was just after sunset, the right time to spawn.”

It worked.

On Saturday afternoon, with conditions perfect,  the corals spawned, releasing sperm and eggs in their 350-gallon tank, much to the scientists’ surprise and delight.

Keri O’Neil, a senior coral scientist on the project, told the Tampa Bay Times that she had stepped out of the room for a minute when a colleague told her that the magic was happening.

“She was shocked to see a cloud of sperm floating in the water. Soon the female coral were pushing out their eggs to mingle with the cloud and become fertilized.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times the scientists’ efforts were successful indeed and “Before long they had 30,000 coral larvae wiggling around” with O’Neil saying “our celebration was just to collect the larvae and start raising them.”

Jaime Craggs of the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, who was the first scientist to achieve the same feat with Pacific coral six years ago, told the Tampa Bay Times that the spawn was “a massive breakthrough.”

With so much terrible news about the environment being reported lately, this is one big victory for the health of the planet.

You can see video of the successful coral spawn and hear the scientists’ excited reactions below.

h/t: Tampa Bay Times

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