Why take a chance when one of the world’s most vital ecosystems is already disappearing?
As it stands, things don’t look good for the world’s coral. We’ve lost 40% of the world’s reefs already, and every forecast shows the situation getting worse. As well as traditional threats like overfishing and coastal development, corals now have to contend with climate change, which not only warms the water but also makes it more acidic.
That’s why Mary Hagedorn thinks we need to move beyond traditional conservation efforts to something more radical: artificial reproduction. Hagedorn, a marine scientist with the Smithsonian Institution, is building the world’s largest repository of coral sperm (and soon coral eggs and embryos) in hopes of one day reconstructing species from scratch and replacing what we’ve lost.
To some, that might seem like an ambitious and perhaps unnecessary undertaking. But Hagedorn, who’s based in Hawaii, argues that coral reefs play a special part in the ocean and require all the effort we can muster. For one, reefs are home to a quarter of all ocean creatures and help maintain biodiversity. They also provide people protection against coastal surges and boost marine tourism. The Great Barrier Reef alone is said to generate about $6 billion for Australia’s economy.
“If coral reefs fail around the world, we have no idea how that ripple effect will impact the rest of the oceans,” she says. “And healthy oceans are really important to our survival.”
Coral—a unique form of life that is part animal, part vegetable, and part mineral—is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually. The simplest way is to snap off a piece and regrow it, like you were taking a cutting from the garden. But it’s not the best way, Hagedorn says. When you clone a plant, you’re simply reproducing it as it is, not breeding it in some new genetic form that’s potentially better.
“You can get more coverage, but you can [run] into problems, especially if diseases break out. One disease can devastate all the work you’ve done,” she says. “Having things that are produced sexually is often better, because you can throw the genetic dice and possibly a new adaptation will come along.”
For example, some years ago, staghorn coral fused with elkhorn coral to produce a new species called Acropora prolifera, which is now prevalent in the Caribbean. That’s good, because the hybrid is more heat-tolerant and surge-resistant than either of the varieties would be on its own.
The Latest on: Coral Reefs
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The Latest on: Coral Reefs
- Scientists used loudspeakers to make dead coral reefs sound healthy. Fish flocked to them.on December 1, 2019 at 8:17 pm
The desperate search for ways to help the world’s coral reefs rebound from the devastating effects of climate change has given rise to some radical solutions. In the Caribbean, researchers are ...
- Underwater loudspeakers can help restore coral reef, says new researchon December 1, 2019 at 2:30 pm
Scientists have reportedly discovered a new tool that could help with coral reef restoration efforts. A team of researchers and marine biologists set up underwater loudspeakers to play recorded sounds ...
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Researchers have found that by playing the sounds of healthy reefs in places where coral has died, fish are more readily attracted back, and help speed the reef's recovery.
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As coral reefs die they become silent graveyards, however, the introduction of underwater loudspeakers brings new life and helps to rejuvenate the coral reefs. A recently published paper in Nature ...
- Underwater speakers could help revive ailing coral reefs, study showson November 30, 2019 at 11:44 am
Coral reefs are among the many victims-in-the-making of climate change, but new research offers an ingenious approach for healing them. A recent study found that underwater speakers placed close to ...
- Damaged coral reefs could be restored using underwater loudspeakerson November 30, 2019 at 9:44 am
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- Loudspeakers are bringing fish back to coral reefson November 30, 2019 at 3:48 am
Scientists may have uncovered a cool way of bringing fish back to coral reefs around the world. A team from universities in the UK and Australia placed underwater loudspeakers in the Great Barrier ...
- Underwater loudspeakers could help restore damaged coral reefson November 29, 2019 at 11:30 pm
Scientists may have a discovered a new tool to help with coral reef restoration efforts. It involves playing the dulcet sounds of nature under the waves. Scientists know the quietness of damaged coral ...
- Sounds of the past give new hope for coral reef restorationon November 29, 2019 at 3:23 am
Young fish can be drawn to degraded coral reefs by loudspeakers playing the sounds of healthy reefs, according to new research published today in Nature Communications. An international team of ...
- Acoustic enrichment can enhance fish community development on degraded coral reef habitaton November 29, 2019 at 2:12 am
Coral reefs worldwide are increasingly damaged by anthropogenic stressors, necessitating novel approaches for their management. Maintaining healthy fish communities counteracts reef degradation, but ...
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