Laboratory grown coral has been successfully transplanted into the sea where they have survived and it is hoped that they will develop and expand to repair coral reefs damaged by years of disease, pollution and the warming of the oceans.
To be clear, corals are animals. The coral reefs that we see are a colony of animals attached to the ocean floor looking like plants. Corals have tiny tentacle-like arms which capture food from the water. Coral reefs are made up of thousands of tiny coral creatures called polyps.
There are endangered coral reefs in Florida. It is hoped that they can be brought back to life and possible extinction by this transplantation process. They have grown two types of coral in laboratories and transplanted them to reefs near the Florida keys. There are signs that they are reproducing in the spawning season which begins in August usually after a full moon.
The two varieties are: mountainous star and branching staghorn. They were grown in the laboratory using a technique that accelerates their growth. The laboratory concerned is Mote Marine Laboratory.
The mountainous star coral was transplanted (“outplanted”) in 2015 near Cook Island on the Lower Keys which is situated at the southernmost tip of Florida. The scientists dived down to their outplanted coral nightly to see whether they were surviving and reproducing. Hannah Koch, a reproduction specialist, said that they have seen eggs and sperm in the corals which were ready to be released.
They are said to be the first known sexual mature outplanted corals in Florida or Caribbean waters. The staghorn corals grown in the lab were planted between 2016 and 2018. These, too, were also preparing to spawn; a feat only observed once before.
Dr Koch was surprised because of the ongoing stressors on the reefs. As mentioned there is disease, hurricanes, bleaching and increased temperatures. The questionmark was whether the coral had the energy to sexually develop.
They appear to be resilient and the scientists are awaiting developments when they spawn this month or next.
The development is considered a major step in repairing coral reefs. Dr Koch said that the method works and that it is now possible to create reproductively viable corals.
Comment: I am a layperson. I’m not a scientist. However, what disturbs me is that the background problem still exists. The underlying difficulties and damaging processes are still there and surely the same damage will be done to these outplanted corals as occurred to the original species. I don’t see any point in outplanting new coral into a place which nature has declared to be unsuitable for coral to grow. Surely it is doomed to failure?