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Environment

Coral Reef Readies To Reproduce: Want To Watch?

Every year in the late summer, the dive and tourism industries in the Florida Keys encourage people to come to the island chain and watch the reproductive act first-hand — on the reef.

Coral spawning takes place  during the full moons of late summer, when stony corals simultaneously release eggs and sperm into the water. They release all at once so the gametes can find each other, the eggs get fertilized — and the volume overwhelms predators out to gobble them up.

A female pillar coral releases eggs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo on August 4, 2012. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researchers said it was the first time anyone has observed female pillar coral spawning.
Credit Monroe County Tourist Development Council
A female pillar coral releases eggs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo on August 4, 2012. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researchers said it was the first time anyone has observed female pillar coral spawning.

Fertilized eggs become larvae (or planulae, in coral-speak) that float in the ocean. Eventually, some of them settle onto the seafloor and establish new coral colonies.

Scientists are still figuring out how all those corals, which are known for beauty but not brains, coordinate the mass spawning events.

The spawning events for 2017 have been predicted for Monday, Aug. 7, and Sept. 6.

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Diver Penny Bailey observes tiny eggs and sperm erupt from a portion of the Florida Keys' coral reef during a reef spawning phenomenon.
/ Monroe County Tourist Development Council
Diver Penny Bailey observes tiny eggs and sperm erupt from a portion of the Florida Keys' coral reef during a reef spawning phenomenon.

A giant barrel sponge during spawning at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Emma Hickerson / NOAA
A giant barrel sponge during spawning at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

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