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
- Strange disease threatens Caribbean coral reefon November 12, 2019 at 4:57 pm
In a little over a year, the Mexican Caribbean has lost more than 30 percent of its corals to a little-understood illness called SCTLD, or stony coral tissue loss disease, which causes them to calcify ...
- RM60 mil to place 14,400 units of reef balls in Sarawak waterson November 12, 2019 at 1:09 am
KUCHING: The state government is planning to expand the placement of reef balls to cover the rest of Sarawak’s coastal waters, as part of a grand endeavour to rehabilitate coral reefs and marine life.
- Florida cities considering ban on sunscreen for worries it's harming coral reefson November 8, 2019 at 3:20 pm
SOUTHWEST, Fla. - Some Florida cities are considering banning sunscreen. They're worried it's harming the state's coral reefs. One southwest Florida lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would ...
- Great Barrier Reef island bouncing back from mass coral bleaching, three years lateron November 8, 2019 at 11:00 am
FITZROY Island’s coral reef appears to be thriving three years after it was affected by mass coral bleaching. Reef Check Australia has released results from surveys carried out last month on a ...
- Local marine biologists caring for coral to buy time against devastating disease in Florida Reef Tracton November 7, 2019 at 3:10 am
Marine biologists at Sea Life Michigan aquarium in Auburn Hills have joined with scientists around the country to protect coral from the Florida Reef Tract. An unknown disease that causes the coral to ...
- Down to the bone: the role of overlooked endolithic microbiomes in reef coral healthon November 5, 2019 at 9:46 am
The metabolic interactions within this symbiotic consortium are fundamental to the ecological success of corals and the unique productivity of coral reef ecosystems. Over the last two decades, ...
- Florida Aquarium ‘Project Coral’ making history to save ocean reefson November 4, 2019 at 8:12 am
APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – This summer, the Florida Aquarium became the first organization in history to successfully spawn Atlantic coral species in a laboratory. It is believed the aquarium’s ...
- Mysterious Oil Spill Threatens Coral Reefson November 1, 2019 at 4:01 pm
<img class="styles__noscript__2rw2y" src="https://v.w-x.co/1572639396129_CHERNOBYLS_WILD_HORSES_MOVE_INTO_EXCLUSION_ZONE.jpg" srcset="undefined" > <img class="styles__noscript__2rw2y" ...
- Ancient Reefs In The Cayman Islands Are Being Used To Model And Prevent Worldwide Coral Extinctionon October 31, 2019 at 3:31 pm
Today, scientists are reporting net negative calcification in certain regions. More sand is eroding than being deposited, more corals are dying than recruiting— scientists are grappling with the ...
- Brazil navy scrambles to save Abrolhos coral reefs from oil spillon October 31, 2019 at 2:06 pm
BRASILIA (Reuters) - With mystery oil slicks still moving down Brazil's coast, the Brazilian Navy sent more ships on Thursday to try to prevent the pollution of unique coral reefs of the Abrolhos ...
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