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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Re-seeding Reefs...one polyp at a time

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, November 30, 2014/Categories: natural history, marine life, sustainability, environment

Like the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike to stop it from bursting, a group of daring marine biologists are trying to replant coral reefs in Florida, one polyp at a time. The labor-intensive re-seeding work has been developed by the  Mote Research Laboratory  in the Florida Keys.

As Riled Up and others have documented, coral reefs are widely endangered due to a variety of environmental stresses such as: ocean acidification from increased CO2 absorption; pollution from agricultural chemicals; overfishing; soil runoff; coral bleaching from higher water temperatures; and smothering algae when grazing  parrot fish are eliminated from the reefs. The results in the Florida Keys and elsewhere are coral "dead zones" where once dense coral gardens thrived.


Coral "dead zone" in Caribbean  (credit: Catlin Seaview Survey and IUCN)

Researchers at the Mote labs have noted that Florida has the only coral reef barrier system in the continental U.S. which provides more then $1.2 billion dollars/year to Florida's economy. The benefits are derived from tourism, recreational and commercial fisheries, and by protecting coastal shorelines by mitigating the effects of erosion and storms.

Mote's labs have devised methodologies to scientifically cultivate coral polyps including how to restore them to natural marine environments. The researchers have devised systems to grow hard and soft corals, seagrass meadows, macro-algae, vertibrates and invertebrates, and other factors required for healthy reefs. They grow coral polyps---the symbiotic associations of a tiny animal and a bacteria that form corals---in tanks of circulating sea water. As they grow, the polyps are divided into pieces that become the "seeds" for further polyps. They develop many times faster than they would in an ocean environment and, when ready, the young corals are transplanted onto depleted reef locations. Even though still experimental, the coral restoration results have been exceptional.

 
Coral Culture Tanks  (credit: Mote Laboratory)       Coral Polyps  (credit: Wiki-commons)

In the kids fable, the little Dutch guy saved the day by putting his finger in the dike so it didn't burst. Hopefully, the reef researchers in the Florida Keys will continue their early successes so the techniques can be replicated whereever there are coral dead zones. That will be one big but important job.

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