Follow up to the last blog: Marine biologists at the California Academy of Science are studying the spawning of the little critters whose bodies create coral. In order to discover a method to save some of the world’s degraded and dying reefs, they are experimenting with in vitro fertilization to increase the number of coral polyps,. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification are killing coral reefs all over the world on a massive scale. The first symptom of trouble is bleaching, a condition indicating loss of the algae necessary for a reef to survive.
Healthy coral reefs are not just colorful sea gardens, nor are they cauliflower shaped rocks, but colonies of tiny animals from the same animal group as jellyfish. Since they spawn predictably only once a year and in great numbers, researchers can capture coral sperm and egg cells to grow the larvae in test tubes. Bart Shephard of the CA Academy of Science in San Francisco and his team have had success with reintroducing the coral polyps to a reef in Curacao. After thousands of test tube larvae matured, they were attached to small tiles and transplanted to the reef. Two years later the introduced coral was flourishing. The process was labor intensive, and they are working on reducing the labor to accomodate projects of larger scale.
Coral reefs are not only a thing of beauty, they are essential to life on earth. The hundreds of different hard corals within a reef provide habitat, shelter, and food in the form of algae contained in the living coral to over 4,000 species of fish and hundreds of other species, all of which sustain life further up the food chain. The unique attractiveness of healthy reefs contribute to local economies through tourism, providing millions of jobs and adding billions of dollars to the world economy.
The cost of protection is so much less than the cost of the potential loss. Recently 2,000 scientists attended a symposium of the International Society for Reef Studies and called for Australia to do more to protect its bleached national treasure, the Great Barrier Reef. It is unlikely in vitro fertilization is sufficiently cost effective to recover all of the planet’s reefs.
When there are days the news is so bad, I want to say, “Stop the planet, I want to get off,” I find it so hopeful to discover that scientific humankind is seeking ways of making up for humankind’s sin against nature. And scientists are often portrayed as cold and calculating. Go figure.
Adapted from an article from David Perlman in the San Francisco Chronicle, Monday June 27, 2016 and supplemented by information from