Tag Archives: #Smithsonian

Spawn Skimming

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Coral spawning, Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tusa Dive / Australian Geographic

Coral spawning, Great Barrier Reef.
Photo: Tusa Dive / Australian Geographic

Coral reefs spawn beneath a springtime full moon, sending up a synchronized release of countless coral eggs and sperm to mingle in the sea, sometimes across great distances. These form planulae, coral larvae, which first float to the water’s surface, then swim back down to the reef or seabed, and form new coral.

And yet, what if they don’t? What if some coral reefs are too damaged to effectively reproduce?

Spawning mountainous star coral off Grand Cayman Island. Photo: Alex Mustard

Spawning mountainous star coral off Grand Cayman Island.
Photo: Alex Mustard

A project was launched last year in Australia to apply the knowledge gained from human fertilization to coral reproduction. Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science retrieved reproductive material during the spawning season of the Great Barrier Reef in order to cryogenically freeze it far from the ocean’s shores in the Western Plains Zoo, in the New South Wales outback.

The goal is to be able to seed out endangered coral reefs in the future, perhaps even hundreds of years from now.

The project reminds me a bit of the Svalbard global seed vault, a human undertaking to harvest as much of the world’s valuable genetic material as possible, even as genetic diversity is rapidly dwindling.

Will it work? No one knows yet. Is it worth trying? I think the answer has to be yes, absolutely, even as we need to work harder against the various human-caused factors that are destroying the world’s largest single structure made by living beings in the first place.

A lovely video, Coral Sea Dreaming, shows the coral reef spawning process: