7th September 2017
The Deep is about to embark on its sixth research excursion with SECORE, a leading coral conservation organisation. Based at a reef-side location in Curaçao, a Southern Caribbean island, they will be developing techniques to further the potential for coral reproduction within aquariums.
During the next 10 days, Seb, The Deep’s coral Aquarist, will be participating in a number of workshops and night dives, collecting bundles containing both sperm and eggs (gametes) that are released from broadcast corals. These coral spawning events are triggered by the lunar cycle and only occur once per year, so timing is crucial. Additional collections of free swimming coral larvae from the more regularly spawning brooder corals will also take place.
Once the gametes have been collected, the scientists set upon a round the clock watch to ensure that successful reproduction takes place and that they settle out correctly when under laboratory conditions. Once the larvae have settled on a new surface, the first coral polyp can begin to grow and after time will create a new colony for transplantation back onto the reef.
A number of corals have been growing from collections undertaken in previous years. These colonies, which are now large enough to be moved back onto the reef, will be out-planted into protected areas.
Historically the only way to breed corals was through a process called fragging. This is when a portion of coral is cut from a large colony and fixed to a new surface to grow. Once developed into small colonies these would then be relocated to reefs in need of restoration. However this method is simply producing clones of the original colony, limiting the gene pool.
Although a more complicated and intensive method, SECORE’s proven techniques allow for a more natural and genetically diverse restored reef site. This year the scientists will be rolling out these techniques to twelve different coral species; two of which are already classified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
Find out more about this process in this fantastic 'a coral love story' video by SECORE.