It's the third-largest barrier reef in the world.

By Kelly Vaughan
April 22, 2020
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At the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida, researchers have been actively studying ways to save coral reefs from global warming. Now a scientific breakthrough—the first of its kind in history—could save the third largest coral reef in the world. The aquarium successfully created lab-induced reproductive spawning of ridged cactus coral.

coral reefs
Credit: The Florida Aquarium

While the Florida Aquarium is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, researchers have been studying ways to salvage the critically endangered Atlantic coral reefs. "Our resolve to save Florida's endangered coral reefs continues, and this historic breakthrough by our coral experts, our second in eight months, provides additional hope for the future of all coral reefs in our backyard and around the globe," said Roger Germann, President and CEO of the Florida Aquarium.

After a major disease outbreak that impacted coral reefs in Florida's waters, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries rescued the corals in hopes of being able to breed and reproduce them. According to Keri O'Neil, a scientist at the Florida Aquarium, coral is an animal that produces sperm and eggs. Over a few nights in August, all the corals release their gametes out into the water at the same time. Scientists at the Florida Aquarium recreated the ocean environment by closely mimicking sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset using LED lights. The scene worked so well that the coral reproduced at the same time they would have if they were in the real ocean.

"We are losing coral species faster than we can learn about them," O'Neil told CNN. "This breakthrough is just really exciting; we're still learning basic new things you'd think we've known for hundreds of years. It's just people never worked with this species before and now that we have the opportunity to work with these corals in the lab, we're going to find out so much more about them."

The long-term goal now is for the coral to be able to survive on their own in Florida's waters. You can support the Florida Aquarium's continued efforts to salvage and protect coral here.

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