Environmentalists have been watching in horror as the world’s coral reefs slowly die away. In many areas, the decline isn’t slow at all. Coral, which can take decades to reach maturity, can’t keep pace with the changes in climate and toll of increasing human populations. Or maybe there is some hope after all.
Dr. Dave Vaughn, a marine biologist and the program manager for coral restoration at the Mote Tropical Research Center, made an accidental discovery. Coral, which normally takes from 25 to 75 years to reach sexual maturity, can be forced to speed up its reproductive cycle.
Dr. Vaughn’s discovery cuts the 75-year-process down to just three years. And the discovery happened by accident.
Dr. Vaughn was getting ready to retire. That plan has been put on hold. While he was working his lab, he accidentally shattered a piece of coral. The tiny fragments didn’t die off, as he expected. Instead, they grew. Fast.
The pieces grew 40 times faster than he’d observed in the wild. The lab-grown coral can also be transplanted into wild coral beds.
Dr. Vaughn’s new process is being called “micro fragmenting,” which seems apt.
“With around half as much coral in the ocean today as there was just 50 years ago, it’s a revolutionary discovery that could literally save the planet,” Return to Now writes.
“My Eureka moment — or Eureka mistake — was when I broke a coral into tiny pieces,” says Dr. Vaughn.
“I thought it was going to die and be very stressed. Instead it grew like the dickens.”
The best news of all is that this method seems to work for every species of coral found off of the Florida coasts.
“I’ve postponed my retirement until I see a million corals replanted back on the reef,” Dr. Vaughn adds.
“We’ve lost between 25 and 40 percent of the world’s coral. If you’re wondering if that’ll make a difference or not, you should ask yourself if you like to breathe.”
This is a significant thing for those of us who like oxygen. Dr. Vaughn notes that only about one third of the oxygen we breathe comes from plants on land. The rest is emerging from the oceans.