The Florida Aquarium says that a scientific breakthrough has been made that could save “America’s Great Barrier Reef” – the third largest coral reef on the planet that is located off the coast of the Florida Keys. Scientists state that a group of coral was able to reproduce two days in a row in a lab setting, a scientific first.
The major scientific milestone could be a critical step in saving the reef, according to Tampa’s Florida Aquarium. The results, according to a report by CNN, were achieved during an initiative called “Project Coral.” The program, which is a partnership between the Florida Aquarium and the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, aims to repopulate the coral in the Florida Reef Tract by creating coral spawn – large egg deposits – in a laboratory setting.
“It’s pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world,” said Roger Germann, the CEO of the Florida Aquarium.
“Our team of experts cracked the code…that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.”
Generating coral spawn has never been done for Atlantic-native corals, so the program was created to see if it was possible. Germann states that many coral experts were skeptical regarding whether the aquarium would be able to produce positive results.
Research initially began in 2014, concentrating on Staghorn coral. The focus of the work then shifted to pillar coral, mainly because a disease was devastating the Florida Reef Tract.
Pillar coal is classified as nearly extinct, predominately because the male and female clusters are located too far apart to successfully reproduce.
“It’s quite possible that we just had our last wild spawning of pillar coral this year due to the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease,” said Keri O’Neill, a coral expert at the Florida Aquarium. “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.”
Various technologies – including computer-controlled systems and advanced LEDs – are used to mimic coral’s natural environment in coral greenhouses and signal the coral to reproduce. Now, the spawning shows resilience and genetic diversity, possibly allowing it to help preserve the Florida coastal ecosystem.
“Now there really is hope,” said Germann. “I think we can save it.”
Expansion initiatives are in the works, including plans to build additional coral greenhouses.
“We’re going to ramp it up. We aren’t going to rest,” Germann asserted. “We want to see a diverse coral reef.”