Rising Ocean temperatures and acidification are a significant threat to coral reefs. Maintaining healthy coral communities is essential to marine biodiversity. However the coral reefs seem to be losing the battle. In the last 40 years up to 80% of all the coral in the Caribbean has disappeared.
There is some good news however. Scientists have for the first time been able to grow coral in a laboratory and replant it into wild coral reefs and observed it reproduce on it’s own. These are of course baby steps in the fight against climate change. In 2011 an endangered coral called (Acropora palmata) was collected and grown in a lab. It’s offspring were then outplanted to a reef 12 months later. ,” Valerie Chamberland, a coral reef ecologist working at non profit conservation group SECORE, said in a news release.
“In four years, these branching corals have grown to a size of a soccer ball and reproduced, simultaneously with their natural population, in September 2015,” Chamberland continued. “This event marks the first ever successful rearing of a threatened Caribbean coral species to its reproductive age.”
SECORE is just one of many coral restoration efforts currently underway round the world, but it’s methods for coral restoration make it unique. Most coral restoration projects involve removing small fragments of coral and replanting them once they have grown to a healthy size. This is not as successful as it is the same gene combination being added back into the reef which limits the bio diversity.
SECORE scientists have with the help of researchers from the University of Amsterdam have pioneered a technique to produce coral embryo’s using vitro fertilization in the lab. Once the embryo’s have matured into mobile larva which eventually take up residence in a substrate. The substrates are then planted into the reef.
This proves that their method is capable of producing coral that can not only reproduce in the wild but that also contributes to the reefs genetic diversity.