Florida Aquarium First to Reproduce Atlantic Coral in a Laboratory by Amalie Hansch

Within the past month, the Florida Aquarium has made remarkable developments in their research on coral reproduction. For the first time in a laboratory setting, scientists in the Florida Aquarium have induced the spawning of Atlantic coral. This breakthrough in the production of coral will, hopefully, be utilized to replenish and restore depleted coral populations along the coast of Florida. 

Shortly after this groundbreaking event, the President of the Florida Aquarium voiced, “While many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done, we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome.” Beginning in 2017, the project took time and innovative technology to precisely replicate the habitat of the Atlantic coral in aquarium tanks. Aided by the Horniman Museum in London, the Florida Aquarium accomplished its goal in just a few short years. 

The researchers’ undertaking began when 180 specimens of coral were collected from Florida’s coast. A total of 30 coral were then used for spawning. In the Aquarium’s lab, the coral was placed in large tanks which mimicked the patterns of the ocean. The effects of sunsets, sunrises, lunar cycles, and seasonal changes in temperature were all artificially recreated within the tanks to build a balanced habitat for the organisms. After months of this diligent process, the coral could successfully spawn in the lab.  

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 10.12.12 PM
An aquarium of pillar coral a few days before spawning in Apollo Beach, Florida.

With slight changes to genetics and environment, the Florida Aquarium’s scientists report that future corals could be made more resilient and possess new characteristics with more reproduction in the lab. Moreover, with these further developments, species of Atlantic coral could stand a greater chance of surviving the impacts of pollution, fishing, and the water temperature increases. 

Researchers hope to use this new advancement in coral reproduction to help restore the decreasing populations of Atlantic coral along Florida and the Carribean. In the words of the Florida Aquarium’s CEO, Roger Germann, researchers “remain fiercely committed to saving North America’s only barrier reef and will now work even harder to protect and restore our Blue Planet.” With time, for example, artificially spawned coral could be transferred to ocean waters to replace the coral which has depopulated over the past years. 

Coral bleaching is a considerable cause for the decease in coral populations and occurs when the organisms release algae living in their tissues. Usually, coral bleaching is caused by changes in water temperature or nutrition. As well, pollution and fishing nets running along the ocean floor have disturbed Florida’s coral reef population. This decline in the health of the Atlantic coral is devastating, as these organisms are essential to the ecosystem of a barrier reef. Jamison Gove, a researcher for NOAA, declares, “Coral reefs provide habitat for fish that serve important ecosystem functions and provide sustenance for local people.” For this reason, Florida’s researchers are rejoicing as their discoveries can help reverse the damage affecting such integral organisms. 

Currently, the Florida Aquarium is continuing its research and testing on the Atlantic coral. Although they have made groundbreaking progress in the past few months, the scientists’ work is nowhere near finished. As mentioned, the aquarium hopes to develop the genetics of their coral to increase their resistance to environmental changes. Additionally, once more spawning has occurred within labs, the Florida Aquarium hopes to begin repopulating the unique reefs along Florida’s coast. With multitudes of possibilities now opened up with this new advancement, the Florida Aquarium sees much more research to be done in the field of coral reproduction.