The Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest reef in the world… and it’s steadily disappearing due to coral bleaching and climate change.
To address this dire situation, scientists have been working tirelessly to figure out how to grow coral in a lab-induced setting which can then be used to help restore the reef. The initiative, aptly called Project Coral, started in 2017 and is a collaborative effort between Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation and the London-based Horniman Museum and Gardens.
Researchers at the Florida Aquarium used research protocols developed by Horniman to become the first to successfully spawn the endangered Atlantic pillar coral in the lab using a technique that had only been accomplished with Pacific coral species. The next step for the researchers is to raise the juvenile lab-grown coral in a setting that imitates its natural environment, which is expected to make it more likely for it to survive in the wild.
“The massive and fully synchronized spawning at The Florida Aquarium’s Center for the Conservation, which occurred exactly at the predicted wild spawning time, indicated perfect aquatic conditions for pillar corals in our Project Coral system,” explains Senior Coral Scientist Keri O’Neil in a statement. “When you have great husbandry, great water quality, and all of the right environmental cues, this is what you can do, you can change the game for coral restoration.”
Healthy coral reefs are crucial for protecting shorelines from waves and storms, so keeping them healthy is an imperative preventative measure that will lead to fewer homes and lives being lost or negatively impacted by the increasingly bizarre and extreme weather.
The success of Project Coral is being hailed as an impressive leap toward rapidly restoring the dying reefs in Florida and the Caribbean. Though coral reefs can recover naturally, the process can take years for the ecosystems to heal. The researchers at the Florida Aquarium are also continuously working on saving more endangered species of coral native to the Florida Reef Tract.