Florida Aquarium has a solution to save our coral reef from extinction

The American Great Barrier reef is the only coral system in the continental United States.

Florida Aquarium’s breakthrough in successfully reproduced ridged cactus coral in an artificial lab setting will save the steadily depleting America’s Great Barrier reef.

The American Great Barrier reef, as it is commonly referred to, is the only coral system in the continental United States. It stretches approximately 360 miles long and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. The majority of coral reefs in the US and across the globe are lost due to pollution, diseases in coral, human activities, and climate change. Research predicts that the world could lose all the coral reefs by the end of the century unless proper measures are taken to protect them.

The ridged cactus coral is one of the varieties of coral rescued from the Florida waters by NOAA Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after the major disease outbreak, stony coral tissue disease, that started in 2014.

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What are corals?

When we hear the word coral, we think of the reef teeming with colorful fishes and various other organisms. Skeletons of hard corals build these reefs, and these are an essential part of the diverse marine ecosystem. Corals comprise of hundreds of thousands of colonial invertebrate animals called polyps.

Why are corals reefs essential?

Coral reefs protect the coastlines from damaging waves and storms. It also provides shelter and habitats for many marine organisms by replenishing nitrogen and other essential nutrients. They can also assist in nitrogen and carbon fixation.

How do they reproduce?

Corals can reproduce in many ways: spawning, brooding, budding, and parthenogenesis, to name a few. Ridged cactus corals reproduce by spawning. Only the sperms are released in the water, and it fertilizes the eggs in the polyps. The parent coral releases the well-developed larvae into the water. Scientists recently witnessed these corals reproduce for the first time, and their larvae are the largest they have ever seen. So far, the corals have released almost 350 larvae or coral babies.

Larvae of the ridged cactus are seen at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Photo courtesy: The Florida Aquarium

Reproducing these corals in a lab setting has given scientists a chance to study their reproductive biology, which otherwise is less known until now.

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According to Keri O’Neil, a senior coral scientist at the Florida aquarium, this is a breakthrough, and the next step is to study how long the larvae swim before settling and become an adult coral. One day these corals can be introduced into their original ocean habitat to stop extinction.

According to the Florida Aquarium President and CEO, Roger Germann, “Conservation and saving wildlife from extinction is our foremost business focus, and scientific breakthroughs that have a direct impact on protecting and restoring our natural environment is why we exist.”

Source: USA Today

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