New hope for coral reefs is sprouting at Florida Aquarium

CNN is among the news outlets covering a hopeful story (as the rain forests burn), that the Florida Aquarium in Tampa has found a way to get coral to reproduce – and potentially repopulate dying reefs:

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida, says they’ve made scientific history as a group of coral has successfully reproduced two days in a row for the first time in a lab setting.

The milestone could have broad implications for “America’s Great Barrier Reef,” which is the third largest coral reef in the world and is found just off the coast of the Florida Keys.
The successful result is part of what the aquarium calls “Project Coral” — a program designed in part with the goal of ultimately repopulating the Florida Reef Tract. The project works in partnership with London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens to create coral spawn, or large egg deposits, in a lab.

The team started working on the research which initially began in 2014 with the staghorn coral, but then the focus shifted to pillar coral because of a disease that has been devastating to the Florida Reef Tract. Pillar coral are now classified as almost extinct since the remaining male and female clusters are too far apart to 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,” the aquarium’s coral expert Keri O’Neill said. “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.”

According to the aquarium, the coral greenhouses use advanced LED technology and computer-control systems to mimic the natural environment of the coral to subtly signal the corals to reproduce.

There are some photos (click on the thumbnails) of spawning events and coral research at the Florida Aquarium site, and plenty more information about the Horniman’s Project Coral at their site.