TAMPA, FLORIDA – The Florida Aquarium has made a groundbreaking discovery that could help regenerate what’s known as America’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef is found on the coast of the Florida Keys and is the planet’s third largest coral reef ecosystem.
Since 2016, scientists and marine biologists alike have noticed a massive decrease in life within the reef. Climate change causes the waters that these reefs live in to heat up. Unnaturally warm waters cause underwater “heat waves” to occur. These waves last longer than normal heat waves on land do, due to the massive amounts of coral and other marine plant life that absorb the heat.
Withstanding high water temperatures for long periods of time can cause the coral to enter a “stressed” stage. When coral is “stressed” it expels itself of algae. The algae sits on the coral and is what gives it its vibrant colors, but more importantly feeds the coral. Without it, the coral starves and goes through a process called “bleaching”. It’s called this because without it’s colors and without the nutrients the algae gave it, the coral turns into a stark white skeleton of what it once was and dies, as seen in the image above.
This process is occurring all over the globe, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which has gone through such severe bleaching, it’s only 50% the size of what it used to be three years ago.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. The staff at the Florida Aquarium have been working non stop on a project known as “Project Coral” to try to find a way to regenerate the rapidly decreasing coral populations. This past week, they reached a breakthrough.
With help from the experts at London’s Horniman Museum, scientists were able to successfully create coral egg deposits in a lab environment.
“It’s pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world, our team of experts cracked the code…that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans” says CEO of the Florida Aquarium Roger Germann in an interview with CNN.
The regeneration of coral spawn for coral that is native to the Atlantic ocean has never been done before and was previously deemed as “impossible” by scientists due to the higher temperature, density and salt levels in the Atlantic as compared to the Pacific. Well, it looks like the scientists at the Florida Aquarium we’re ready to prove everyone wrong.
The focus of Project Coral was specifically to help regenerate a type of coral known as pillar corals. These corals are what make up a majority of the Florida Reef, but also are known globally as the coral closest to extinction.
“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.”
The Florida scientists have worked to try to recreate the natural environment of the coral when it reproduces. With the use of coral greenhouses (large fish tanks filled with coral and coral DNA), computer control systems, and LED technology, the scientists were not only able to build a perfect replica of the pillar corals natural environment in the Florida Keys Reef, but also the exact conditions the environment is in when the coral normally regenerates itself.
This monumental moment is an important first step in the global regeneration of all the coral that has been lost to climate change. This breakthrough is not only positive for the coral, but all the many ecosystems that are dependent on these reefs.
In addition to the environment regenerating, the economy will begin to as well, hence the importance of a project like this. The amount of money that comes into Florida (or any place around the globe that is home to a famous coral reef) from tourism is what keeps many businesses alive. With less coral alive, tourists are losing interest in these normally very popular vacation spots, and thus the economy is impacted.
However, with this new advancement the future for our planets entire ecosystem is just as bright and colorful as the coral reefs themselves.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.